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Do Floridians Know About Phosphate Production’s Many Hazards?

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”.

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