Florida Phosphate Mining Buffer Zones - Engineering Best Practices
Phosphate strip mining is known to cause severe landscape disruptions. Mitigation and final land reclamations plans are a must to be “permitted” to strip the central Florida earth for phosphate ore. Strip mining is considered to create the most severe man-made land disturbance known said the Department of Environmental Protection. Phosphate, strip mining in general, creates severe environmental impacts to Central Florida watersheds including the Manatee River, Myakka River and Peace River to name a few.
Central Florida’s watersheds produce enough drinking water yearly to support almost 6 million people and still growing. One can imagine how important central Florida’s watersheds are producing public drinking water quality and quantity. In other words, water is absorbed and contained by the landscape. Water is held in the ground sometimes for years before coming back to the surface, all the while moving through the sub-surface “percolating” (cleaning) the water for all to enjoy.
All the above mentioned naturally contained fresh water resources are considered a treasured natural resource by all in central Florida. Most of Florida’s freshwater resources are consumed for drinking, cattle, irrigation, and other public uses. The water consumed is typically recycled by natural processes such as evaporation and rain water.
However, Florida’s phosphate industry located in west central Florida over consumes water that cannot be released back to the environment because the water is extremely toxic. During consumption by the phosphate industry, the water is mixed with toxic pooling liquid acids containing radioactive materials and other toxic phosphatic waste by-products from the production of fertilizer.
Once the water is consumed by the phosphate industry, it cannot be released back into the environment but seems to find a way. One can see some advantages of building “buffer” zones to mitigate the toxic environmental impacts caused by producing phosphate based fertilizers. Buffer zones surrounding phosphate mining operations seems to offer empirical evidence in the reduction of phosphorus from clay settling areas (CSA) of highly compacted soils. The compacted phosphatic soils are poor water conduits for surface absorption making buffer zones ecologically important to millions of acres of land holding watersheds and phosphate facilities together in central Florida.
"In finding economic solutions to environmental problems, we are discovering ways in which the goal of regulation, rather than the process, is paramount." Schlesinger Dean, Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences Duke University.
Buffer zones are paramount, if not required, which surround phosphate facilities for the purpose of reducing severe environmental damage caused by phosphate strip mining in general. Buffer zones (1) offer a way for toxins to be absorbed (uptake) by the landscape when planting particular flora which is based on the type of toxins to mitigate. Buffer zones are an environmental advantage because they create barriers between toxic and non-toxic tracts of land. Buffer zones are set up by planting particular grasses, underbrush, and trees which uptake (absorb) specific toxins.
(Fig. 1) Eucalyptus tree buffer zones
An example is planting a three ring buffer zone. The outside ring of the buffer zone (furthest from the toxic source) is planted with particular grasses known to uptake specific toxins. Then specific underbrush (middle ring) is planted inside the grassy ring which surrounds the ring closest to the toxic source where trees are planted for maximum uptake of toxins. The tree ring or inside the ring, of the buffer zone could be planted with eucalyptus trees because this type of tree is known to absorb phosphorus (1). Phosphate facilities can mitigate much environmental destruction based on sound engineering practices, such as constructing engineered buffer zones.
Engineered buffer zones are needed by the phosphate industry to mitigate damage to severely disturbed landscapes. CSA’s are a perfect example where buffer zones would reduce severely disturbed landscapes for phosphorus uptake. Eucalyptus trees (Fig. 1) apparently thrive on phosphorus uptake creating larger yields for raw wood to use for construction and other purposes. Interestingly, all of the technologies mentioned above are known to produce positive results, but Florida’s phosphate industry may not want profits to suffer at the cost of building engineered buffer zones surrounding phosphate facilities.
Phosphorus uptake by eucalyptus trees around phosphate facilities using engineered buffer zones is known to decrease phosphorus nutrients (pollutants) being transmitted through to the soil outside the buffer zone including aquatic(2) areas as well. Techniques such as buffer zones are real world successful applications of engineered soils, grasses, and trees for maximum toxic soil uptake.
1. Understanding the Science Behind Riparian Forest Buffers: Effects .... –www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/420/420-151/420-151.html.
2. NCSU Water Quality Group. – www.water.ncsu.edu/watershedss/info/wetlands/manage.html.