Radioactive roads? Florida streets may soon include hazardous fertilizer waste products
Written by WSLR News on Saturday, July 1, 2023
On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial measure that directs Florida transportation officials to determine if a slightly radioactive waste byproduct from the fertilizer industry can be used in building roads.
By Johannes Werner
Original Air Date: June 30, 2023
Host: On Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a controversial measure that directs Florida transportation officials to determine if a slightly radioactive waste byproduct from the fertilizer industry could be used in building roads. It will require the Florida Department of Transportation to study the use of phosphogypsum in road construction aggregate material. The department will have to finish the evaluation by April 1st, 2024. Sean Kinane of partner station WMNF interviewed a lawyer with an environmental organization that urged the Governor to veto the bill, to find out why we should be concerned.
The two radioactive byproducts of phosphate mining is processed wastewater and phosphogypsum. These byproducts pile up quickly. For each ton of phosphate, there are five tons of waste products. Phosphogypsum is being piled up in what’s called gyp stacks, mountains of debris that are prone to environmental disasters. Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the phosphate mining company Mosaic hosted and paid nearly $25,000 for a fundraising event for the state lawmaker who sponsored the controversial bill.
Sean Kinane, News Director at partner station WMNF, talked to Regan Whitlock, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The center urged in vain the Governor to veto the bill.
Regan Whitlock: The Environmental Protection Agency has found the use of phosphogypsum in roadway construction presents an unacceptably high dangerous cancer risks to road construction workers, and can cause adverse effects in nearby surface and groundwater resources. Floridians need accountability from the industry that makes billions annually from our precious resources, and this is a massive step in the wrong direction.
Host: The study period was too short to even begin to fathom the risks, Whitlock says.
RW: It is no secret that the study isn’t even designed to look at the environmental health and safety consequences. There were several amendments to these bills offered that were shut down which would have required DOT to work with either the EPA or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that this study accounts for Floridian’s health and the safety of our environment. Those amendments were shot down. It appears as though this study is only aimed at determining whether or not phosphogypsum can be used from a construction standpoint. The safety of Floridians and our environment seems to not even be on the table at this point.
Host: The Environmental Protection Agency has studied phosphogypsum use and has recommended against it.
RW: In an independent expert study, the EPA found that it presents unacceptably dangerous cancer risks to road construction workers. The frontline workers that would be handling this stuff on a daily basis would be exposed to a cancer risk. And this is in addition to the groundwater leeching heavy metals into our bays and waterways. The resuspension of radionuclides, a cancerous substance, into the air from vehicular traffic on these roads systems. The EPA has found that this is not a safe project.
Host: Thank you to WMNF for sharing the interview with us. If you want to listen to Sean Kinane’s full interview with Regan Whitlock, go to wmnf.org and click on “News.”