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Phosphates and Nitrates Are Essentially Toxic to Florida’s Economic Health

Author: Davey Crockett
by Davey Crockett
Posted: Feb 01, 2016
natural water

Florida has long been an agricultural and cattle producing state. Naturally, these two industries also support the second largest industry in the state, food production. Agriculture, cattle, (2) and related foods contributed about 130 billion dollars to Florida’s economy in 2011. These industries have co-existed for many generations without much ado.

Fresh Water is Critical to Florida’s Economy

It is safe to say, without fresh, clean water; tourism, agriculture, and cattle industries in Florida would fail, causing severe economic issues. Also, over 90 percent of Florida residents use groundwater for drinking (5). Florida’s food producing industry is relatively stable and continuous because Florida receives copious amounts of yearly rainfall.

Rainwater is the ultimate source of fresh, clean water for most residents in southwest central Florida. Rainfall in this area of Florida ranges from 50 inches to 70 inches per year. All this water adds up quickly and needs some place to be stored.

Florida’s Freshwater Venues

Florida’s rivers, streams, lakes, springs, and aquifers create healthy habitats to maintain wildlife and ecosystems, and storage for water. Freshwater resources are also used for natural relaxation and recreational venues that provide many business opportunities for Florida. This point is subtle, but important because clear fresh water springs bring large amounts of money into the Florida economy.

Where Does All the Rainwater Flow?

About 50 percent of yearly rainfall is absorbed into the earth, and the other half runs off into rivers, lakes, evaporation, and the like, eventually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. The southwest central Florida earth’s surface is comprised of uniquely layered materials. The surface layer is formed with karst or carbonate rock. This material is surrounded by porous, soluble, water absorbing, and water confining layers. The rainwater is absorbed by these formations and used for storage by nature.

How Does Man Benefit From Karst Rock Landscapes?

Rainwater is slightly acidic, which allows karst or carbonate rock to dissolve in water. This dissolution process can start small but will eventually create cracks, surface caverns, deep caverns, and sinkholes. Each of these hydrogeologic formations can and does confine water. This confinement in turn forms water tables, aquifers, and springs.

The hydrogeologic structures listed above are natural water confinement earthen formations and preserve the rainwater as it is absorbed through the surface (3). Now humans can benefit from the ample natural water resources for crops, cattle, and drinking.

Florida’s Phosphate Industry is a Significant Economic Player

There is another big player on the economic stage not yet mentioned. The third largest industry in Florida is the phosphate industry, behind food production and tourism. This industry also exploits the same natural water resources as agriculture and cattle, and tourism. That seems fair.

Look a bit closer to discover how each of the industries mentioned, exploits the natural water resources. The agriculture, cattle, and tourism industries use their natural water resources in a similar manner. All the water consumed by these three industries ends up back where it came from; the ground absorbs it. The absorbed water combines with natural water tables in the area which are sustained by southwest central Florida’s average yearly rainfall amounts. This is the same natural freshwater resource that everything living in southwest central Florida requires for sustentation.

So it seems that all is well in the Sunshine State, receiving vast amounts of rainwater year after year, all will have plenty of fresh, clean water to use. However, when one looks just a bit closer at Florida’s top producing industries, one sees the phosphate industry’s water consumption is used differently. The phosphate industry cannot simply let the fresh aquifer water they consume back into the ground. This is because the phosphate industry wastewater is toxic to all and must be confined in man-made storage ponds full of acids and salts partially disovled in water.

Central Florida phosphate officials boast large amounts of phosphate deposits (2) which are based on the natural organic accumulation of once living flora and fauna found on the Florida peninsula, as described above. Phosphate is naturally occurring and unfortunately at this time, has no substitute, say experts.

How Critical Are Phosphate Producing Industries To The Public?

Phosphate is used in many different methods, including fertilizers and gunpowder. The fertilizer produced is used to grow crops to feed people and livestock, here in the United States and around the world. I mentioned gun powder because phosphates are also resources for military use. Processed phosphates have heavy metal components and can be used for radioactive materials as well.

Surface Contaminates Flow Into Florida’s Aquifer Systems

However, overall freshwater quality can become tainted when phosphorus-based nutrients (pollutants) are introduced directly into the aquifer systems. Pollutants such as nitrates and "processed phosphates" are significant contaminants in a fresh water source for all consuming it.

Phosphorous is Essential to Life

Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for every living thing on earth including humans. Phosphorus can be found it different forms. One form of P is found in natural occurring phosphate.deposits in southwest central Florida. This makes sense geologically because phosphate deposits are commonly encased in carbonate rock or limestone rock with clays, sand, and other materials. P should also be found in limestone, and it is, one form is phosphates which are of interest here.

Guarding against these contaminants (4), particularly phosphorus-based nutrients, is a principal concern for all environmental agencies and stakeholders in Florida’s economy. This is because elevated concentrations of phosphorus-based nutrients have shown an adverse impact on local freshwater ecosystems in the form of algae growth, which in turn has a negative effect on human health as well.

Oxygen Depletion Issues In Aquifers

Algae growth depletes normal levels of oxygen dissolved in the water, noticeably in the daylight hours due to photosynthesis. This in turn decreases the average amount of dissolved oxygen in the aquifer systems and natural surface springs. Oxygen depletion starts to kill the more sensitive flora (5), and the cycle continues as long as the dissolved oxygen in water is not within normal ranges for sustentation.

The cycle continues because vanishing flora causes higher level floras to die further depleting oxygen and so on until the fauna dependent on the flora begins to disappear. When life ceases to exist in an aquatic area, it is referred to as a "dead zone". Dead zones may appear in freshwater, marine areas high in phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations, because of abnormal algae (4) growth such as is happening in Florida’s aquifer systems and natural springs.

This cycle will continue in an area’s natural freshwater source until the phosphorus and nitrogen pollutant levels fall enough in groundwater so the dissolved oxygen can increase to normal levels for sustentation. Unfortunately, these two nutrients do not dissipate quickly and tend to stay in the soils for extended periods of time. This means, Florida’s freshwater resources (1) showing existing pollutants will continue to increase until the contaminants are removed by a natural flushing of the aquifer systems. Sadly, these two pollutants are on the rise in Florida’s aquifers and springs.

Read more from


  1. Interpretation of Water Chemistry Data from a Florida – Global Underwater Explorers
  2. Business Magazine Gainesville
  3. Tampa Bay Watershed – ProtectingGroundWater organization
  4. Florida Center for Instructional Technology - Floripedia: Orthophosphate in Florida Streams
  5. USGS - U.S. Geological Survey Office of Groundwater -Karst Features and Hydrogeology
About the Author

Davey Crockett - - Please stop by to learn about Florida's phosphate industry causing severe environmental damage daily.

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Author: Davey Crockett

Davey Crockett

Member since: Nov 25, 2015
Published articles: 4

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