Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Piney Point phosphogypsum stack “gypstack” disaster exposes the threats posed by phosphate mining

Dear Sierra Club Community:

The ongoing disaster at Piney Point is of grave concern to us all.  Staff and volunteer leadership are working hard to determine our next steps, both as an organization, and as a partner in a broad coalition working on preventing disasters just like this one.

You are likely wondering what you can do as an advocate.  There are immediate actions that you can take below.  We also ask for your continued support as we use science, best practices, and level heads to determine our next steps.

We will hold them accountable, and we will keep you in the loop.  Please stay tuned for further action alerts and next steps.  Thank you!

Sincerely,

Deborah Foote

Acting Chapter Director

Sierra Club Florida

 

 Catastrophic toxic wastewater release highlights the need for Federal action

Over the holiday weekend, Manatee County officials issued evacuation orders for the area surrounding Florida’s Piney Point in anticipation of the imminent catastrophic collapse of a phosphogypsum stack retention pond holding up to 700 million gallons of wastewater.  In response to the unfolding threat, Governor DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee County.
Reports have 22,000,000 gallons a day being discharged from the holding pond to prevent the release of millions of gallons of wastewater and a failure of the radioactive phosphogypsum stack itself.  Phosphogypsum is the radioactive waste from processing phosphate ore into phosphoric acid, which is predominantly used in fertilizer.  The risks to Tampa Bay water quality and wildlife may well be longer term than the duration of the discharges.

Sierra Club Florida has been fighting against phosphate mining and its impacts for close to two decades.  In February 2021 Sierra Club and partners petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve federal oversight of the radioactive waste produced by phosphogypsum facilities, including wastewater from phosphoric acid production.  

Please sign this petition to let the EPA know you demand action now.

In December 2020 Sierra Club and partners sued the EPA for approving the use of radioactive phosphogypsum in road construction. The groups also petitioned the agency to reconsider its Oct. 20, 2020 approval of that use.

The Piney Point disaster was predictable and preventable and is inextricably tied to the failure of both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to adequately regulate phosphate mining waste and more broadly the phosphate mining industry.

Florida has 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than 1 billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste. 

Radium-226, found in phosphogypsum, has a 1,600-year radioactive decay half-life. In addition to high concentrations of radioactive materials, phosphogypsum and processed wastewater can also contain carcinogens and heavy toxic metals like antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc.

For every ton of phosphoric acid produced, the fertilizer industry creates 5 tons of radioactive phosphogypsum waste, which is stored in mountainous stacks hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall. More than 1 billion tons of the radioactive waste have already been stored in 25 stacks scattered throughout Florida.

The stacks are perched precariously atop the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 10 million people. As phosphate mining expands throughout Florida, more phosphogypsum will be created and added to these failing stacks.

In 2019 a phosphogypsum stack in Louisiana started shifting, prompting emergency measures. 

In 2016 a massive sinkhole opened in a different Florida phosphogypsum stack, releasing 215 million gallons of wastewater and waste material into the Floridan aquifer.

In 2004 a gypstack at Riverview, Florida breached, spilling millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay.

Other phosphogypsum stacks have been designated Superfund sites. Phosphogypsum stacks are also located in Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

In February conservation and public-health groups petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve federal oversight of the radioactive waste produced by phosphogypsum facilities, including wastewater from phosphoric acid production.

In December 2020 environmental, public health and union groups sued the EPA for approving the use of radioactive phosphogypsum in road construction. The groups also petitioned the agency to reconsider its Oct. 20, 2020 approval of that use.

Learn more about phosphogypsum and efforts to protect public health and the environment from its harms at https://phosphogypsumfreeamerica.org/ 

Protecting Florida Together?  The state has shown its complete refusal to avoid the Piney Point disaster for over a decade.  FDEP will be posting their testing results and updates here: https://protectingfloridatogether.gov/PineyPointUpdate  
 
You can sign up for FDEP Piney Point updates here:  https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLDEP/subscriber/new?topic_id=FLDEP_667 

FIND A PHOSPHOGYPSUM STACK NEAR YOU:



Please sign this petition to let the EPA know you demand action now.