EPA Approves Radioactive Waste Product in Road Construction

By ManaSota-88, Inc. a 501.c3 Public Health and Environmental Organization

Hazardous Waste Being Mixed into Roads

If you live next to a road, will you be living next to a hazardous waste site? Unfortunately, this may be a reality for many, especially in Florida.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced they will approve the use of phosphogypsum in road construction. Phosphogypsum is the radioactive waste product left over from the production of fertilizer, and Florida has a lot of phosphogypsum.

ManaSota-88 is vigorously opposed to the use of phosphogypsum in roadbeds. High radionuclide levels, increased health risks, increased groundwater contamination and lack of state regulatory oversight are some of the many reasons why phosphogypsum should not be used in road construction.

EPA and other studies have determined that the use of radioactive phosphate gypsum wastes as building materials is unsafe and should not be done. This decision reflects the EPA’s past concern that the radium bearing waste, if spread throughout the country, would present a public health threat that would continue for generations, given radium’s 1,630-year radioactive decay half-life. However, the current administrator of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, supports the phosphate industries attempt dispose of their waste by mixing it with concrete used for road construction.

The distribution of phosphogypsum will unnecessarily expose workers, the environment, and the general public to otherwise avoidable radiation exposure.

To allow the use of phosphogypsum as a construction material is the height of irresponsibility. Allowing phosphogypsum to be used for road construction will open the regulatory door for the use of phosphogypsum in construction or agricultural applications. The radioactive decay of this material will emit particles that can cause increased cancer risks and unacceptable radiation levels in areas normally not having such problems.

To date, there have been no published scientific studies confirming that there is a “safe” industrial process to convert phosphogypsum for uses such as roads. EPA’s exemption to their own radiation rule seems to be based more on EPA’s failure to reduce in the generation of toxic phosphogypsum rather than reducing the public health hazard posed by this material. All uses of phosphogypsum can cause significant health risks.

In addition to high radium 226 levels, central Florida phosphogypsum also contains significant amounts of sulfur and various heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, and lead. Contaminated water and dissolved materials containing these toxins have the potential to seep from phosphogypsum used for construction purposes and pollute the underlying aquifer.

Phosphate companies have had more than 50 years to figure out a way to dispose of the radioactive gypsum wastes in an environmentally acceptable manner but have yet to do so. Instead, the industry is producing tens of millions of tons of waste annually, and the industry continues to expand its dumping operations.

ManaSota-88 does not believe the phosphate industry should be permitted to externalize the costs of their phosphogypsum waste disposal problem at the public’s expense. The cost is too high.

EPA Approves Use of Phosphogypsum in Road Construction


Additional details from My Drink Water

The U.S. produces approximately 20% of the world’s phosphogypsum. In countries where reuse is practiced – such as road building, construction material, fertilizer, and landfill cover – up to 20% of annual phosphogypsum production is diverted from stacking to other uses. While the approval of TFI’s request does not mean that phosphogypsum will become widespread in roads, it allows state and local governments to investigate the opportunity to use phosphogypsum in appropriate road construction projects.

Phosphogypsum is a byproduct material of phosphate fertilizer production. It is regulated for the presence of radium-226, a naturally occurring radioactive substance that produces radon gas, a hazardous air pollutant.

The Clean Air Act requires the disposal of phosphogypsum in stacks, except for limited agricultural and research uses. The Clean Air Act also provides a procedure to request authorization to use phosphogypsum for other uses, and that the Assistant Administrator may approve such a request if the alternative uses fall below risk thresholds.

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