Historically, the phosphate industry in Riverview Florida “stacks” their waste in huge mounds called phosphogypsum stacks, “gypstacks”. The gypstack mound holds radioactive materials such as Uranium and other heavy metals along with large volumes of sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid, and a phosphate slurry mix. Phosphogypsum is hazardous waste produced in fertilizer production from strip mined phosphate in Florida.
A gypstack starts with drag lines, pushing the original natural surface soils called “overburden” into large piles or mounds. Overburden is what the lay person would call springs, aquifers, pastures, lakes, rivers, streams, watersheds, unique ecosystems, and the like. The overburden is then used to start the sides of the “gypstack” by making an earthen dam that holds the phosphate matrix slurry as it comes from the production field. Phosphogypsum is “stacked” in these radioactive mounds of industrial waste materials, year after year with no end in sight.
If one drives down Highway 41 in or around Riverview, FL on a regular basis over time, one cannot miss the huge mound of grayish-white colored material piling up year after year by the phosphate processing plant in Riverview, located on the back of Tampa Bay near the mouth of the Alafia River. One will notice immediately, the massive size and height of the mound, even though it is so far away. I would drive by this mound every month or so, for years as a youth in central Florida. Then, once in a while, I would notice the “mound” looks bigger than it used to, I could not tell if it was growing or it was my imagination. Unfortunately, it was bigger, even though it was difficult to see the mound growing because the mound is just that massive.
Now I know this huge mound is toxic waste, generated by the phosphate processing plant in Riverview, FL. You may ask, why would Florida’s elected officials “permit” the phosphate industry to store toxic, radioactive material in an area so close to a large human population in an extremely eco-sensitive area, directly on the shoreline of Tampa Bay, in Florida? Well, the answer turns out ultimately, to be money.
The mound exists because the material in the mound is too toxic to move due to expense. Florida’s elected officials along with phosphate industry officials said they could not come up with anything else to do with it. Even, the Environmental Protection Agency has not come up with a better solution. This is because Florida’s elected officials “deterred” federal officials until the EPA submitted and let Florida’s officials have their way with the industry preferred solution, “gypstacks.” Unfortunately, Florida taxpayers have almost two dozen gypstacks, growing daily, to contend with in their future. (3)
The financial responsibility for the toxic waste should be the party producing it, but in this case, mega-phosphate industry players are involved with Florida’s large political “industry” players. (2) Some say it is the Republicans, while others say it is the Democrats, I cannot tell. I do know most citizens involved will be adversely affected. The responsibility will come in the form of levied tax dollars and personal health.
What Are In the Mounds?
These massive mounds (dams) consist mostly of a radioactive material known to the phosphate industry as phosphogypsum. It is waste material produced from making phosphoric acid needed for the food producing industries’ fertilizer. One ton of phosphoric acid produced creates five tons of waste phosphogypsum. The industry calls these toxic waste dumps, “gypstacks.” This is short for phosphogypsum stacks.
The phosphogypsum is a powdery substance similar to chalk and very similar to gypsum, in general use today for building materials including drywall (gypsum board) and roadbeds, or any latent formed building materials. The difference is that phosphogypsum is radioactive. The radioactive materials in the gypstacks are naturally occurring heavy metals including, uranium, which is of interest here. Uranium has a half-life of about 1600 years, meaning in sixteen centuries, the gypstack uranium sample will be half as radioactive as it is today. (1) The EPA says there is “no safe” level of radioactive materials in these mounds. In this case, Radium is of interest here, because it is in the “Uranium Decay Chain” and is known to be in the gypstacks.
The toxic gypstack acts as a dam to retain toxic slurry being pumped into the gypstack from the phosphate strip mining field. Once the slurry is inside the gypstack, it can be processed by adding sulfuric acid to the slurry mix. This is because sulfuric acid reacts with phosphatic materials to make phosphorus-based fertilizers. So the cycle continues year after year more phosphate slurry is pumped to the gypstack while the gypstack grows in mass simultaneously. Florida’s elected officials and phosphate industry says they do not have a better plan for their constituents and neighbors. How can this be you ask?
The Environmental Protection Agency asked some pretty serious questions to Florida’s elected officials as well and the answer given was that it is too costly for the third largest industry in Florida to clean up their toxic mess. Instead, Florida taxpayers are paying for it with their health and tax dollars.
- Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
- Environmental Protection Agency