The Florida Senate has passed a bill that will allow the use of a radioactive waste byproduct from the fertilizer industry, called phosphogypsum, in road construction. The bill authorizes the Florida Department of Transportation to mix the waste product with aggregate material for an experimental project lasting one year. The project will be monitored and evaluated.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that phosphogypsum poses a cancer risk due to its radon emissions. Currently, the EPA prohibits its use in road construction.
Various conservation groups have objected to the bill due to potential hazards, the short duration of the testing period, and concerns about the monitoring and evaluation process. They also expressed concern for workers exposed to the product. The entire review process should be conducted by an independent company not connected to the fertilizer industry.
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Radiation occurs naturally in nature. Phosphate rock contains phosphorus, a mineral used in some fertilizers, as well as radioactive materials. The process of extracting phosphorus also affects the concentration of radioactive material. Consequently, the waste byproduct is stronger in terms of radioactivity compared to its natural state.
Radioactive waste is a major problem in the country, arising from various sources, particularly nuclear power plants and to some extent, the fertilizer industry. The federal government operates the Formerly Used Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), which aims to clean up numerous private and government properties used in the Manhattan Project, which involved uranium extraction from ore. The cleanup projects overseen by FUSRAP are both expensive in terms of cost and human life. Cancer rates at the various work sites were extremely high, and compensation is available to employees and families of deceased employees. In some cases, contamination extended beyond the work sites to the civilian population, and compensation is also provided for cancer and other related diseases.
In 1994, a sinkhole developed in a large phosphogypsum stack in Florida, resulting in the discharge of 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the aquifer. The company believes they removed most of it, but given the size of the aquifer, certainty is lacking. It is reported that Florida has 24 stacks containing one billion tons of phosphogypsum, with an additional 30 million tons generated annually.
Radiation is not to be taken lightly, as it can be deadly. The fertilizer industry has contributed to this situation, and the government should not be involved in fixing what is clearly an industry problem. Historical examples of companies generating dangerous waste and disregarding the consequences, such as Love Canal, come to mind.
Florida is an extremely fragile environment, floating above a freshwater aquifer. The state’s population is estimated at 22.6 million people, all dependent on the aquifer for fresh drinkable water. As anyone driving around Florida knows, roadways deteriorate over time. Rainwater runoff absorbs contaminants from the roadways and seeps into the aquifer. It is not difficult to comprehend that radiation will eventually contaminate our freshwater supply, potentially endangering workers and people living near these roadways.
Using a radioactive waste product, along with other carcinogenic materials, on our highways is illogical. Once our water supply is contaminated, we will either have to leave or rely on cisterns to collect rainwater.
While elected officials often favor the private sector, in this case, any action that may endanger the aquifer and human well-being is too risky. We strongly encourage the governor to veto this highly dangerous experiment, which poses a potential threat to human life.