EPA Disrespected by Florida’s Politicians Concerning Phosphate Radiation
Posted: Feb 01, 2016
Florida’s phosphate dilemma started a lifetime ago when fate and the Army Corps of Engineers happened to uncover a valuable resource called phosphate (4). Little did Floridians know, the Florida phosphate industry was born.
The Florida phosphate industry can trace its roots back to Coronet Phosphate Company started in 1906. (4)The industry was small for many years because phosphate mining at that time was back breaking work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows in mosquito infested areas. During the middle of the 20th century (2), phosphate mining changed forever, with the introduction of the drag line.
The mining story continues in the 1950’s by the Smith-Douglas Corp. located in Norfolk, Virginia until about 1960. Agrico Chemical Co. bought and operated the phosphate mines until 1973. At that time, Gardinier, a French mining company purchased and operated Florida’s major phosphate mines. (1)
I remember Gardinier phosphate trucks passing through the town of Brandon, Florida on State Road Highway 60 in the 1970’s. In Southwest Central Florida, Highway 60 is the main truck route from the largest phosphate mines in Bartow and Mulberry, and other sites as well, to the shipping Port of Tampa, FL.
In 1985, Cargill Fertilizer, Inc. bought and operated the phosphate mines until 1994 when the Mosaic Co. purchased the phosphate mines and still owns them today.
As you can see, the phosphate industry starting in 1950’s through present day has passed the environmental catastrophes on to the next mining company owner, one after another for over 70 years. That is how long it took to build the mountainous gypsum stacks we see today on the Florida landscape. The radioactive gypsum stacks have taken an entire generation to make.
During the last 70 years, you may ask, where do Florida’s elected officials stand? Florida’s elected officials stand with the phosphate industry and have for decades. Florida’s elected officials and phosphate mine owners love money enough to fight the federal government, the EPA’s Superfund project, and countless environmentally based lawsuits to keep the mines open for business, seemingly without concern for Florida residents.
Florida’s elected officials say the phosphate industry is too important for the state’s economy to impose fines or force the phosphate industry to neutralize their severe man-made environmental catastrophes. Am I saying Florida’s elected officials are not protecting their constituents for the all mighty dollar? You bet your bottom I am. These statements are based on well-known facts and not just my opinion as you will see, please read on.
The example that follows will give you some idea of the political power in phosphate mining. In 2003, the EPA officials stated a potential problem in Lakeland, FL. The problem was so bad that they (EPA) considered certain sub-divisions in Lakeland, FL to be candidates for emergency cleanup action. Also, low-income and minority communities might also be affected, internal documents show. However, Florida’s elected officials intervened, and the agency (EPA) Superfund project did little more in the way of studying the issue over the subsequent decade. Local residents were kept from hearing the EPA concerns, and no remedial actions were taken. Also, no local news or national news affiliate mentioned the contaminated residential properties in Lakeland, FL sub-divisions. How can this be you ask?
Florida’s phosphate mining industry owners, who champion the second largest revenue producing industry in Florida (2), made it known that they vigorously opposed the EPA declaring the parcels Superfund sites. Such a move could make mining companies liable for up to 11 billion dollars in cleanup costs, according to estimates of the potential scope of the contamination that the EPA inspector general included in a 2004 report.
The EPA gave up their argument after a decades-long battle with Florida politicians and phosphate industry officials over the clean-up of phosphate mining toxic waste "in an area that could expose more than 100,000 residents to cancer-causing radiation levels." The EPA submits and will leave it to Florida’s elected officials to decide the fate of the sites in and around Lakeland, FL.
As described above, the EPA did little to escalate the issue at Lakeland area sites until 2010, agency documents show. By now, EPA officials estimated that as many as 120,000 residents living in 40,000 homes are exposed to potentially unsafe radiation levels. (3)
Following news reports in 2010 about the standoff between Florida’s politicians and the EPA, the EPA officials began making plans for an aerial radiation survey that was to enable them to get a better idea of the scope and severity of any contamination (3). However, the progress stalled after a group of Florida politicians "pressured" the EPA not to conduct the survey.
Florida’s elected officials said they do not believe direct exposure to radiation from the soil is a significant risk. Florida’s officials said radium contaminated soils are not of concern, but indoor radium should be targeted instead.
Removing indoor radon contamination is generally less expensive than cleaning contaminated soil. Indoor radon pollution can often be cleaned through the installation of ventilation systems while cleaning radium-contaminated soil can require massive excavation projects at an enormous expense.
Based on the EPA, focusing on radon, but not soil contamination is not how the federal government would typically address a contaminated site. The EPA believes this approach will not account for the gamma ray exposure to residents, and does not account for the risk of inhaling or ingesting the contaminated soils.
In addition, the EPA benchmark level that Florida’s elected officials say they would use to determine whether action is needed to address indoor radon pollution is not based on health considerations. Instead, it is based on how much radon current ventilation technology is capable of eliminating.
According to the federal agency's website, there is no "safe" level of radon exposure. (3) The US Congress passed legislation in 1988 setting a goal of reducing indoor radon levels to between 0.2 and 0.7 picocuries per liter, but the technology needed to meet this objective did not yet exist.
Even though the EPA’s Superfund program does consider the amount of radon gas entering homes, decisions related to remediating man-made radium contamination are usually driven primarily by how much of the radioactive materials are found in the soil. The EPA may have undermined, due to political pressure and the lack of funding, their "entire regulatory structure" for cleanup of radium-contaminated soils.
Read more from
1. Acquisition History |State Lands | Florida DEP.
2. State of Florida.com
3. State Library and Archives of Florida
4. Florida Memory. com
Davey Crockett - https://www.flmines.com - Please stop by to learn about Florida's phosphate industry causing severe environmental damage daily.