Some Thoughts On The Radon To Roads Bill

It seems clear—it was actually clear the moment the bills were filed given the supine proclivities of his year’s Legislature—that a proposal that would allow state transportation officials to study whether the material from those mountains of phosphate waste byproducts that dot the landscape of Polk County would replace limerock as a road base material was going to pass.

Whether Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign the bill is still unknown. Environmental groups, including Sierra, are arguing for a veto.

This is an odd piece of legislation for a number of reasons.

First, it not as though no one has ever built a road in Florida using this material.

Parrish Road east of Fort Meade was built using this material decades ago. A University of Miami research team looked at how everything worked out. The researchers reportedly concluded they found no problems.

The other question that the curiously incurious staff analyses of the legislation is just how much of this material, which is slightly radioactive and contains a number of toxic elements, is really a practical way to reduce the volume of these stacks and relieve Mosaic—the main owner of these properties—of its eternal responsibility for managing and monitoring these waste stacks.

So far we are left to guess. It is not hard to conclude the lack of staff research may be tied to the perception that the fix was in on these bills and there was no point in putting a lot of effort into the analysis.

Opponents often mention sinkholes, which allows the material to migrate into the aquifer. Sinkholes are rare in Bone Valley, as evidenced by the near absence of natural lakes in the main areas where mining has occurred. However, when they do occur, the results are spectacular. How many remember the aerial photo that showed a helicopter dwarfed by the chasm at the top of the stack at Mosaic’s New Wales plant?

Mosaic argues the environmental effect on drinking water supplies is overblown, arguing they crank up their large pumps and divert the contaminated water in the aquifer to their ponds. This is not a matter of simply being good neighbors. They know that if any of the polluted water gets past the boundaries of their property, they will be in a major violation of their permits.

Then there is the current ban by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is significant. State transportation officials can study the issue until they retire, but unless federal environmental policy changes, it is merely an academic exercise.

Meanwhile, Jason Garcia at Seeking Rents reports that legislators are also proposing to fund some sort of study of this waste at Florida State University to see if it is feasible to extract trace elements from the waste, including some of the so-called “rare earth” elements that are used in electronics.

The main element that has been studied for extraction in the past has been uranium, but it never seemed to economically feasible, based on the market price.

There has been research involving the extraction of other elements such a yttrium, but if you’re thinking there is lithium or some other element that’s key making electric vehicle batteries, this material doesn’t seem to be the place for it.




Posted in Group Conservation Issues.