ORLANDO, Fla. — Conservation groups across the Southeast United States are urging Gov. DeSantis to veto a bill that would allow the use of radioactive fertilizer waste in road construction across the state.
The bill passed by legislators permits the use of toxic phosphogypsum in “demonstration” road projects in Florida. Critics said this is the first step in a phosphate industry push to eventually use the waste in roads nationwide.
The Environmental Protection Agency prohibits using the toxic phosphate waste in roadway construction because it poses an unacceptable risk to road construction workers, public health and the environment.
The bill would require the Florida Department of Transportation to complete a study on the feasibility of using phosphogypsum as a material for road construction, with a short timeline and completion date of April 1, 2024.
“The only way Gov. DeSantis can assure Floridians he’s serious about protecting them from this radioactive waste is to veto this reckless bill,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Florida-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dangerous plan to pave Florida’s roads with toxic phosphate mining waste is an egregious handout to an industry that has a lengthy history of damaging the environment and putting public health at risk.”
The EPA currently requires that phosphogypsum be stored in piles called “gypstacks” that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall.
More than 1 billion tons of radioactive waste are already stored in 25 stacks in Florida.
According to a news release from the organizations opposing this bill, “The industry has a demonstrated history of inadequate management when it comes to phosphogypsum waste. The stacks are prone to spills and sinkholes – like the breach at Piney Point and sinkholes at New Wales – that threaten Tampa Bay and the Floridan Aquifer.”
“No environmentally conscious or ‘green’ governor worth his salt would ever sign a bill into law approving roadbuilding with radioactive materials,” said Rachael Curran, an attorney with People for Protecting Peace River. “Even the fast-tracked ‘study’ contemplated by this industry-sponsored bill would create harm because that study involves a full-scale road project that would have very real, very detrimental impacts to the environment and health of Floridians, especially road-construction crews.”
In 2020 the Trump-era EPA approved the use of phosphogypsum in roads. Following a lawsuit and petition by the Center and other conservation, public health and union groups, in 2021 the agency withdrew that approval.
Putting radioactive phosphogypsum in roads would let the fertilizer industry off the hook for safely disposing of the millions of tons of dangerous waste it creates each year while generating another cash stream for industry giants, the release stated.