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Do Floridians Know About Phosphate Production’s Many Hazards?
by Davey Crockett on Dec 31, 2015
Florida’s phosphate industry creates many serious environmental impacts during the “wet” process in the production of fertilizer (1), including unmetered groundwater consumption. The phosphate industry’s groundwater consumption and uses are of primary concern to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. For example, the state of Florida environmental protection standards requires wastewater from industry be treated to meet water quality standards before the wastewater is released to the environment.
The phosphate industry pumps the unmetered amounts of aquifer water to dilute the toxic waste produced in the process of making fertilizer so it can be legally dumped into Florida’s waterways. The state requires the phosphate industry’s toxic wastewater be treated before it is dumped. The density of the toxic wastewater mix is measured to meet state requirements for Florida’s pollution standards (4). Unfortunately, the toxic mix’s “density” is another example of the phosphate industry’s use of “smoke and mirrors” to create the illusion of following environmental standards for wastewater treatment and release.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) requires permits for the industry to pump fresh aquifer water and to dump their toxic wastewater into Florida’s waterways. The freshwater pumping came from Florida’s aquifer systems and used in the phosphate mining process. The toxic wastewater is treated and dumped locally (3) by the plant where the landscape absorbs the wastewater as surface pollutants or eventually drains into the Gulf of Mexico carried by Florida’s pristine rivers and streams.
Wastewater Treatment Requirements in Question
The density of the toxic waste mix is based on volume in this case. Density is defined as mass per volume. When one measures density, the mass of toxins being dumped is not truly being measured; because water is added to the toxic mix for dilution until state requirements are met. The phosphate industry takes advantage of the state requirements in this way. The phosphate industry understands the mass of toxins dumped can be manipulated to meet the state limits just by changing the volume of water in the mix. Technically, the phosphate industry can dump as much toxic waste as they want because the state requires the density of the solution to be below legal limits, not the mass of the pollutants. The phosphate industry calls the dilution process “blending”.
The following paragraph illustrates the “dilution” process dilemma. The Florida DEP representative reiterates the same requirements in their words.
It's allowed under the state Department of Environmental Protection's rules, said the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the agency commonly known as Swiftmud. Without that freshwater to dilute it, what Mosaic is discharging would violate the DEP's limits on a type of pollution called "conductivity," SWIFTMUD explained. (4)
Unmetered Groundwater Pumping Permits
Florida’s phosphate industry’s well-water consumption permits are unmetered, so groundwater is pumped without restrictions. In this way, they can dilute the toxic wastewater without repercussion because the state requirements for release are not based on the mass of toxic waste being dumped. The state of Florida does not regulate the mass of toxins being dumped in treated wastewater because the density of the toxic mix is purposely based on volume, not mass.
One can see this first hand by visiting central Florida phosphate processing plants when the dew is in the air with just a bit of early morning fog. When one looks at the phosphate plant in the pre-dawn hours, one will see the plant lighted with a haze forming a dome over and around the plant. (2) If one is close enough to the plant one will smell then taste an acidic odor. The smell and taste come from the process in the phosphate plant and is highly toxic. The odor one smells and tastes is from acidic fumes rising around the plant facilities and carried by the fog. The toxins precipitate in the surrounding mist with noxious acidic fumes produced by the production of fertilizer. The toxic haze is most irritating to one’s nose, eyes, throat, and respiratory system.
Central Florida’s phosphate industry creates environmental pollutants on a daily basis. Water consumption by phosphate production has been shown to lower aquifer water levels in turn forming spring degradation and water shortages. Florida residents should contact their elected officials concerning the phosphate industry aquifer water consumption and use practices and tell Tallahassee, wastewater treatment industry practices as unacceptable.
"FGS" Florida Minerals. n.p.
"Floridians Fear Pollution `Killing Us`" tribunedigital. n.p.,
"The Phosphate Fertilizer Industry: An Environmental
Southwest Florida Water Management District, Swiftmud