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March 20th, 2012
Florida Phosphate Mining Wastes and their Relationship to Public Health
Discovered in 1889, phosphate mining has since become a major industry in Florida, contributing more than $85.9 million in severance, property, sales and other taxes and fees in 2003. (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) Phosphate has become a significant part of the Florida economy between the mining and agricultural production, which depends on the phosphate fertilizers. Globally, phosphate plays a vital role in meeting the demand on food supplies of an ever growing population. For example, commercial fertilizer is estimated to be responsible for 40 to 60% of the world’s food supply, and Florida mines play a critical role, producing 25% of the phosphorous used in agriculture worldwide. (Table 1) (Roberts, T. L., 2009; Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) The demand for fertilizers and animal feed additives accounts for about 95% of the 8-10 million metric tons of phosphoric acid that is made each year. (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2011)
In Florida. 1992) The extraction and refining of phosphate is composed of three steps and each of these represent a potential to can cause damage to the local environmental and human health. (United States Environmental Protection Agency.000 acres of land annually.Table 1. phosphate mining disturbs 5. (Florida Department 2|Page .000 to 6. typically 15 to 50 feet below ground. Mining is the process of removing the phosphate rock from the ground. Wet process phosphoric acid plants.
during chemical processing. five tons of phosphogypsum are produced. 2012) Benefication is the mechanical separation of phosphate minerals from the clay and sand that make up the phosphate rock. Phosphate chemical processing plant flow sheet 3|Page . (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) The goal of this research is to compare the health impact and regulations of phosphogypsum with other phosphate mining wastes. (Figure 1) During chemical processing. a waste product that is being stored in 25 stacks across Florida at the rate of 30 million tons every year. The phosphate mining industry produces many more waste products that have the potential to be reclaimed or reused. however current regulations ban their use to protect human health. with 100. Figure 1. which can be sold as a product.000 gallons per minute of process water. Finally. The waste clay is pumped into clay settling areas (CSAs). for every ton of phosphoric acid produced. the phosphate minerals are mixed with sulfuric acid to produce phosphoric acid. but more commonly is combined with other processes to create crop fertilizer and animal feed.of Environmental Protection.
(United Nations Environment Program. such as the contamination of surface and ground water by wastes such as fines. (Table 2) The management of large waste disposal impoundments. 2001) However. such as dams. The failure of storage facilities can cause extensive and widespread offsite effects. the greatest health concern is the radioactivity of the different waste materials. 4|Page .2. which is a result of the mined mineral matrix. ponds and stacks represent a significant disturbance to the local area and hydrology.0 Phosphate Mining Wastes Similar to other mining operations. phosphate mining produces a large amount and variety of waste products. which naturally contains the radioactive elements uranium and radium. tailings effluents and brines. International Fertilizer Industry Association.
It takes years for the clay to settle and the water to evaporate. 5|Page . which occupy 40% of phosphate mined lands. a common phosphate mineral.1 Phosphatic Clays The mined phosphate rock contains equal parts of fluoapatite.Table 2. clay and sand. the clay is collected in CSAs. meaning that the land is not structurally sound. Wastes produced in the phosphate mining industry. After benefication. 2. and even after several years these areas are still only about 25% solids.
total phosphorous and color. As a result of this finding.Although.. for gas scrubbing.2 Process Waters Water is used throughout the chemical processing to produce phosphoric acid. improving the local hydrology and biodiversity.6 mSv dose of background radiation received naturally every year. Along with the process waters. The process water is very acidic and is stored in ponds above phosphogypsum stacks for cooling to be recycled. Inc. The average Florida soil has about 2 pCi/g of radioactivity from both uranium and radium. M.03 mSv dose of radiation from the food in addition to the 3. et al. The study found that if a person ate as much food as possible from the crops grown on this CSA for a year. 6|Page . Typical process waters have a very high total dissolved solids. (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) Studies conducted in the early 1980s by Gordon & Palm Associates. Phosphoric acid maintains 86% of the Uranium-238 from the phosphate rock following chemical processing. A clay settling area has up to 40 pCi/g of radioactivity. which must be treated before it is discharged into the environment under a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. to operate barometric condensers. researchers have shown that CSAs can be reclaimed with wetlands. and to slurry the phosphogypsum produced and transport it to stacks for storage. (United States Environmental Protection Agency. state that clay ponds do not pose a risk to ground water. 2010) Phosphatic clay sediment in the CSAs has a higher level of radioactivity than sediment in natural lakes. all clay ponds at phosphate mines in Florida are exempted from State ground-water monitoring requirements. When considering risks associated with radioactivity and the clays. consider a study of typical Florida crops grown on a CSA. that person would receive a 0. (Brown. large amounts of phosphoric acid are released into these ponds. 1994) 2.
which would have released 1. (2011) found that the discharge of these high nutrient waters caused an increased in the number of some harmful algal bloom species. Piney Point Phosphates process water cooling ponds.7 million gallons of treated water in the center of the Gulf of Mexico because heavy rain risked the failure of the pond containment walls. if the storage system fails as in the case of Piney Point Phosphates. 2011) Figure 2. In 2003. (Garret et al.but the concentration of U238 is at low enough levels that it is safe to use. Some of the storm water is collected and discharge is 7|Page .4 billion gallons of untreated acidic process water into Tampa Bay.. Garret et al. Regulations regarding phosphogypsum stacks have been improved to prevent seepage of process waters into groundwater sources. Treated process water was being discharged into Bishops Harbor to lower the amount stored in the phosphogypsum stacks and prevent structural failure of the retaining dikes. these process waters represent a severe health hazard. the EPA issued an emergency permit to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to disperse 534. (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) However.
(Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute. 2000) The major health concern related to phosphogypsum is its radioactivity. 1995) About 1 billion tons of phosphogypsum are currently stored in 25 stacks across Florida. 1994) 2. (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) Phosphogypsum produced in north Florida contains roughly 5 – 10 pCi/g of radium while phosphogypsum from central Florida contains about 20 – 8|Page . (United States Environmental Protection Agency. (United States Environmental Protection Agency. et al. J. (Hofman.S. (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) Stacks can range from a foot print between 5 and 740 acres and a height between 10 and 200 feet. and direct exposure of gamma radiation. The EPA has determined that the risks associated with stacking phosphogypsum are in line with acceptable risk practices.controlled. inhalation of radioactive dust. groundwater pollution with mobile anions. The concentrations of uranium and radium-226 in phosphogypsum samples taken in central Florida were about 10 times the background levels in soil for uranium and 60 times the background levels in soil for radium-226. United States Environmental Protection Agency. transmitting contaminants from the mining area into the surrounding environment..E. acidity or radionuclides. (Alcordo. I. and Rechicigl. sand and clay. radon gas.. 2011) However. J.3 Phosphogypsum Phosphogypsum is primarily CaSO42H2O with small amounts of rock phosphate. the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that all phophogypsum is placed in stacks or mines. however in many cases the majority of the storm water runs off the site uncontrolled. 2011) Since 1990. and is highly acidic. Environmental contamination resulting from phosphogypsum storage may occur from atmospheric contamination with fluoride or other toxic elements.
which will lead to more phosphogypsum containing greater radioactivity. In the United States. The phosphogypsum used in these practices all meet the regulatory radiation limit set by the EPA. parking lots and storage facilities in Florida. phosphogypsum can be used as a conditioner for clayey or and sodic soils because of its moisture retaining and salt leaching properties. Research has shown that the radiation emitted from the phosphogypsum in the road base is near background levels. and in other states. and thus does not harm human health. pose a potential health risk of direct radiation exposure from gamma-rays and radon-222. On the contrary. so much of the phosphogypsum cannot be beneficially used. J. (United States Environmental Protection Agency.35 pCi/g radium. I. They include use as a soil amendment to improve the quality of agricultural soils. phosphate mines are moving south to mine new phosphate rock. Phosphogypsum has successfully been used in as a base in roads.S. 1992) Phosphogypsum Regulations Phosphogypsum with an average radionuclide greater than 5 pCi 226-Radium per gram of solid waste or greater than 10 Ci for any single discrete source is considered a hazardous waste. (Alcordo. 1995) The majority of phosphate production in Florida is in the Bone Valley area of central Florida. however. and Rechicigl. and a road base or construction material. It’s critical for maintaining soil productivity in the southeastern United States where highly weathered soils have poor physical properties and high erodability. most European countries apply the 9|Page .E. This does. according to the EPA. Beneficial Uses of Phosphogypsum There are two major proposed uses for phosphogypsum. (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) As resources in north Florida diminish. Only about 5% of the phosphogypsum produced in United States is utilized for beneficial use.
. who received external gamma radiation from the phosphogypsum amendment and indoor Rn inhalation from the soil. The results showed that highest health risk was associated with the on-site agricultural worker. Each of these varied in the type of soil. and ingestion in the case of drinking water or eating food with various radionuclides.S. where was 1225 kg/ha of phosphogpysum was applied biennially for 100 years. concentration of 226 Ra in the phosphogypsum amendment. Converting this limit in terms of 226 Ra. the regulation for the maximum individual risk of fatal cancer over 70 years of continuous exposure does not exceed 3x10-4. I. Since this population exposed to the greatest risk. and Rechicigl. the EPA chose this scenario for its rule making. 1995) The EPA assumed seven different scenarios to model possible exposure routes. the EPA assumed that the highly exposed individual lived in a house for 70 years on property that was previously an agricultural site.E.7 mSv of radiation from building materials. direct exposure as in the case of gamma rays. (Alcordo. Under this scenario.. the limit on 10 | P a g e . the phosphogypsum used in building material cannot exceed 18 pCi/g. (Tayibi et al. application rate over 100 years and tillage depth. distance from the phosphogypsum application site. The EPA also assumed that a lifetime (70 years) 1x10-4 risk of fatal cancer was a safe limit.recommendation that the population should not be exposed to more than 0. inhalation in the case of 222-Radon gas and radionuclidecontaminated particles. J. according to the European Commission Recommendation. From this maximum individual risk. therefore the total gamma radiation dose should not exceed the limit of 1 mSv per year. 2009) Phosphogypsum Risk Assessment The EPA evaluated the health risks to set the level of the regulation limiting the use of agricultural use of phosphogypsum. There are three main exposure pathways. populations exposed. From these assumptions.
giving a very low limit. However. (Alcordo.. but phosphogypsum has the potential to be used as a soil amendment or road base material.E.000 dose units per year from the inhaled radioactivity in the tobacco leaves. Under this scenario. and Rechicigl. J.E. the homeowner's risk of radon-related health concerns only slightly exceeded the EPA's acceptable limits. phosphogypsum would account for 30% of the soil by weight at a 15 cm tillage depth.5. For comparison.S.S. J. safe limit. (Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute) The Fertilizer Institute believes that the parameters selection and dose-risk model overestimate risk by 2.226 Ra in phosphogypsum was set at 10 pCi/g for agricultural use. (Alcordo. This would allow the dose-risk model used by the EPA to be tested in the real world environment and set a more accurate. The phosphate industry argues that the 226 Ra concentration was based only on the scenario of greatest exposure. and Rechicigl. Much of the phosphogypsum produced in Florida 11 | P a g e . I. 1995) Conclusion The Florida phosphate industry is responsible for a relatively large portion of the phosphate fertilizer used to meet the worldwide demands on food supplies. This industry produces many waste products. so they have proposed that the EPA increase this limit to 26 pCi/g 226Ra in phosphogypsum. I. this concentration is too low and was improperly determined. current EPA regulations limit the amount of radiation in phosphogypsum that is beneficially used. the average two-pack-a-day smoker subjects himself or herself to about 8. 1995) From the perspective of the fertilizer industry. That risk is equivalent to a radiation dose of 1 mSv per year beyond the natural background radiation dose of 3.6 mSv that the average person in the United States receives per year. meaning the assumed application rate may be too high.. Also.
which has a multitude of environmental consequences. the European Commission has recommended that the maximum concentration in phosphogypsum should be 18 pCi/g 226Ra. Ra as and deriving from a flawed method. which splits the difference between the regulators and private industry. The EPA regulation for radiation in phosphogypsum is too conservative and leads to phosphogypsum stacking. As a comparison.exceeds the limit. The limit should be increased to avoid some of the issues associated with the phosphogypsum wastes. 12 | P a g e . and the fertilizer industry has proposed to increase the limit to 26 pCi/g They view the current regulation of 10 pCi/g 226 226 Ra. This will also give researchers an opportunity to prove or disprove the accuracy of the previous EPA limit in real world situations.
S. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. J. J. L.E.. King. C.References Alcordo. FL. Worner. Kovach. W. (2011) Harmful algal bloom species and phosphate-processing effluent: Field and laboratory studies. D. Better Crops.state.us/water/mines/manpho. Marine Pollution Bulletin.. M. Hofman. Bartow. (2000) Natural Radionuclide Concentrations and in Materials Processed in the Chemical Industry and Related Radiological Impact. Boyd.E. Wingender. (pp. (2009) The Role of Fertilizer in Growing the World’s Food. Truby.. and Rechicigl. E.state. http://www1... FL. Boca Raton. E. J. J. 93 (2) 13 | P a g e . Inc. (2011) An investigation on natural radioactivity from mining industry. USA: CRC Press. Leicht. E. 10(20) 4313 – 4317. Ingwersen..S. M. In J. McLaughlin. USA: Florida Institute of Phosphate Research Esmeray.. African Journal of Biotechnology. Brown.fl.us/PhosphatePrimer Garret.dep.. 366 – 412). Rechcigl. Wolny..fl. Roberts. (2010) Wetlands on clay Settling Areas. Chapter 62-671 Phosphate Mining Waste Treatment Requirements Florida Department of Environmental Protection (2012) Mandatory Phosphate Program http://www. I. H. C..fipr. European Commission: Nuclear Safety and the Environment. T. M.. and Aydin. J. Soil Amendments and Environmental Quality. R.htm Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute. (1995) Phosphogypsum and Other By-Product Gypsums. M. (62) 596 – 601. Heil.
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