During the production of fertilizer from phosphates, many unwanted toxins or waste by-products are made as well. Florida’s phosphate production’s by-products are in the form of active airborne toxic chemical agents and heavy metals or central nervous system chemical agents. The agents include radium and poisons such as arsenic (1). There is “no safe level” of radioactive emissions from radium, says the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).The DEP classifies radiological agents as hazardous waste and states that any measurable trace of these agents is highly toxic to all known life forms.
Fluorides Can Be Toxic Waste
During the 1940’s, the phosphate industry in Polk County, Florida, released toxic airborne gasses and fumes to the local environment. The chemical release killed all life coming into contact with the toxic chemical agent. Over 25 thousand acres of farmland poisoned and over 30 thousand head of cattle perished in the wake as well, (5), according to the president of the Polk County Cattlemen’s Association.
One of the toxins released is fluorine. Fluorine based gasses or fumes are responsible for causing severe environmental impacts to Florida residents and Central Florida’s landscape. Fluoride poisoning in Polk County, Florida displays serious adverse effects on heath related issues and the economy as well.(3)
Florida’s food producing industry is adversely affected due to Florida’s phosphate industry’s fluoride poisoning events. Estimates of the loss to those affected are about $ 500 million dollars, (6). Unfortunately, fluorine is released during the production of phosphate-based fertilizer by a process called “acidulation.” Today, some but not all fluoride toxins are recovered from the process instead of released into the local environment (4). Historically, phosphate industry officials are not sympathetic to local economies (1) and do little in the way of economic revitalization, if any.
Fluorides Severe Environmental Impact
As time passes, it becomes evident, the toxins mentioned above continue to cause crop and cattle poisonings for years after the toxins initial release into the environment. The toxins killing animals and burning crops was found to be fluorides, based on veterinarian reports (2).
Fluoride poisoning is called skeletal fluorosis. Skeletal fluorosis causes swelling of the joints and is very painful. Today, fluoride poisoning is linked with arthritis. Florida’s food producing industries found fluoride poisoning detrimental to their livelihood. Incidentally, food production is Florida’s second largest industry behind tourism. Cattle companies and large crop producers had to relocate due to poisoned pastures and growing fields. Tens of thousands of acres were poisoned along with thousands of cattle in central Florida. (1)
Phosphate industry officials need engineers that will find a solution to make their waste by-products more environmentally friendly and economical for related industries to use. For example, industries requiring fluorine as a feedstock can use phosphate industry by-products. Currently, the phosphate industry stores all the recovered toxic waste. The waste by-product is stored locally to the phosphate plant in highly toxic mountainous structures called phosphogypsum stacks.
However, industries requiring fluoride based feedstock would use the fluorine waste produced from making fertilizer, but the process of making fertilizer also bonds the fluorine atom with silica. The bond between the fluorine atom and silica (silicofluorides) is expensive to break with current technology, so industry shies away from fluoride based phosphate waste by-products.
Unfortunately, Florida’s phosphate industry officials do not show interest in finding an environmentally sound solution. Poor environmental stewardship is one reason for the still growing phosphogypsum stacks on the central Florida landscape. Florida’s residents should contact their elected officials concerning the environmental issues related to the phosphate industry.
Phosphogypsum and Commercial Applications
Phosphogypsum may have uses in the construction of roads. Road construction offers more demand for phosphogypsum to replace lime for road beds used now. According to Phosphate Management head for Florida’s DEP believes the phosphogypsum is too dangerous for commercial purposes. The DEP decision is based on heavy metal radiation emissions from phosphogypsum due to uranium and radium. The Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection still considers the phosphogypsum stacks as “the most serious pollution threat to the state” (Florida). One can see the industry’s reluctance to remove toxins from the phosphogypsum stacks.
More waste by-products are made in the form of processed “waste clay” and contains toxic levels of uranium and radium. The Florida DEP does not allow toxic clays for reclamation projects of mined lands because the clay contains toxic levels of uranium and radium. The toxic clay is stored locally at the phosphate plant that made it, in the phosphogypsum stack. Again one can see the reluctance of phosphate industry officials to protect the Florida environment.
If the severe environmental impacts mentioned above were not enough, phosphate industry officials allow for over-pumping from the local aquifers, causing still greater stresses on the environment based on water shortages. (3) Central Florida’s counties have been on water restrictions since the early 1990’s due to over-pumping of Florida’s aquifer systems.
However, Florida’s phosphate industry pumps millions of gallons daily from the aquifers without fear of punishment from water management authorities. Interestingly, water from Florida’s aquifers used by the phosphate industry is unmetered. At a minimum, unmetered water usage by Florida’s phosphate industry needs to stop because of existing water restrictions placed on property owners. Florida’s phosphate industry is asking for trouble it does not need based on recent environmental issues.
Historically, Florida’s phosphate industry produces tons of by-product toxins and then accidentally lets the toxins find their way out of the phosphate plants and into the local environment (3) for many years. Thus, illustrating over time, the phosphate industry’s resolve to keep the status-quo in their favor. Florida’s taxpayers will continue to pay for environmental impacts caused by the phosphate industry for many years to come.
The phosphate industry, historically, will not be held responsible for most of their environmental violations because Florida’s elected officials do not hold industry officials accountable. Florida’s residents should contact their elected officials concerning the phosphate industry’s poor environmental record concerning Florida’s landscape.
1. Florida State University’s Research in Review.
2. Uranium from Phosphates, Phosphorite Uranium, The World Nuclear Organization
3. Florida Department of Environmental Protection
5. Linton, 1970
6. Shupe, 1970
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