UPDATE: Ron DeSantis signs a bill allowing Florida to test radioactive phosphogypsum in roads after environmental groups urged a veto

phosphogypsum pollution red tide nutrients
South side of the Piney Point gypstack, photo courtesy Center for Biological Diversity.

On Thursday Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial measure that directs Florida transportation officials to determine if a slightly radioactive waste byproduct from the fertilizer industry could be used in building roads.

It will require the Florida Department of Transportation to study the use of phosphogypsum in road-construction “aggregate” material. The department will have to finish the evaluation by April 1, 2024.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that the phosphate fertilizer company Mosaic “hosted and paid nearly $25,000 for a fundraising event for the state lawmaker who sponsored the controversial bill.”

The measure (HB 1191) drew opposition from environmental groups. Here is WMNF’s May interview with a Florida staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Listen to the show here:

The original story from May 2, 2023 is below:

The Florida Senate on Monday gave final approval to a bill that could be a step toward using phosphogypsum, a byproduct of the phosphate industry, in building roads.

Senators voted 34-4 to approve the bill (HB 1191), which passed the House last week. It is now ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The issue has drawn attention, at least in part, because phosphogypsum includes radioactive elements. It is stored in huge stacks.

Opposition to phosphogypsum in roads

Opponents raised questions about the potential hazards of using phosphogypsum, including whether it could harm people working on roads and whether it could affect water in aquifers.

On Monday, thirty-five organizations and businesses sent a letter (see below) to Governor DeSantis urging him to veto HB 1191 because of concerns over “water quality and public health.”

On WMNF’s Tuesday Cafe (2 May 2023), we spoke with Ragan Whitlock, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity — he signed the letter.

Whitlock told WMNF, “We’re extremely frustrated that the Florida Legislature has chosen to cater to the phosphate industry once again at the expense of Floridians and our environment.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has found the use of phosphogypsum in roadway construction presents an unacceptably high, dangerous cancer risk to road construction workers and can cause adverse effects to nearby surface and water resources.

“Floridians need accountability from the industry that makes billions annually from our precious resources, and this is a massive step in the wrong direction.”

In the letter that you signed, the letter says the unreasonably short study period ending on April 1, 2024, cannot even begin to thoroughly review the health and safety consequences. So they have 11 months to come up with a conclusion that whether this is safe or not.

“It’s no secret that the study isn’t even designed to look at the Environmental Health and Safety consequences.

“There were several amendments to these bills offered that were shut down which would have required D.O.T., to work with either the EPA or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that this study counts for Floridians’ health and the safety of our environment. Those amendments were shot down.

“It appears as though this study is only aimed at determining whether or not phosphogypsum can be used from a construction standpoint,” Whitlock said.

What HB 1191 would do

The bill would allow the Department of Transportation to move forward with demonstration projects that include phosphogypsum in aggregate materials in road construction.

The department would conduct a study on the issue.

“Upon a determination of suitability by the department, phosphogypsum from phosphate production may be used as a construction aggregate material in accordance with the conditions of the United States Environmental Protection Agency approval for the use,” the bill says.

Senate sponsor Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said the study would look at such issues.

The dissenting votes were cast by Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Fort Lauderdale, Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, and Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando.

Watch the interview here:

Also on Tuesday Cafe

Also on Tuesday Cafe: we looked at how the state is going after elected officials including suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren and embattled Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

WMNF’s Tuesday Café

Tuesday Café airs weekly on WMNF beginning at 10:06 a.m. ET.

You can listen live on 88.5 FM in Tampa Bay, on wmnf.org or on the WMNF Community Radio app.

You can watch Tuesday Café on the TBAE Network on Tuesdays at 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

You can listen anytime on demand on wmnf.org or by subscribing to the Tuesday Café podcast on your favorite podcast platform.

https://open.spotify.com/show/311qfxLFcO8F7ZvnjgZogD – WMNF’s Tuesday Café with Seán Kinane.

information from News Service of Florida was used in this report

Read the letter to Gov. DeSantis:

Piney Point

In late April, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft permit for the Piney Point Phosphogypsum Stack System in Manatee County (see below). Right now wastewater in a reservoir above Piney Point is being pumped underground by an injection well.

In order to avert an emergency two years ago more than 200 million gallons of that polluted wastewater was pumped into Tampa Bay. A resulting red tide caused the death of thousands of fish.

Read the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s letter about Piney Point:

information from News Service of Florida was used in this report

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