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Here are some details about the supposition that phosphate mines are a temporary land use...


In Greg Martin's excellent article below, the director of the Florida

Institute of Phosphate Research has concluded that Phosphate mines are a

temporary land use.  I assume that's a legal decision, since it certainly

isn't based on any scientific evidence.  That conclusion of "temporary" was

used by the Manatee County attorney yesterday to determine the county's

ordinance was unlikely to trump statutory reference to mining as "temporary"

- urging commissioners not to accept staff's recommended denial of Mosaic's

application to mine the headwaters of the Peace River.  I predict this will

become the new means of circumventing all local control over mining, without

the burden of actually adopting legislation proposed this session.



³Paul Clifford, FIPR executive director, pointed out that urban development

and agriculture also cause impacts to the environment. ŒThose uses of the

land are permanent," he argued. "Phosphate mines are temporary.¹²




Is phosphate institute biased?

Environmentalists see little benefit in mining research

This is the first installment of a three-part story on the Florida Institute

of Phosphate Research.

The Florida Institute of Phosphate Research conducts too much research to

support the phosphate mining industry and not enough to protect the

environment, according to several environmental advocates.

But the institute's research directors argue that its research to support

the industry also helps the environment, because it leads to more efficient

mining practices. And that conserves resources such as energy, water and

land, said Paul Clifford, executive director of the institute.

"As a sidelight, when an industry operates more efficiently, it usually

becomes a better steward," added Steven Richardson, research director for

reclamation studies at the institute.

Located in Bartow, the institute was established by the Legislature in 1978

to provide scientific information about both the environmental and health

effects of phosphate mining and improvements in mining efficiency.

Specifically, Chapter 378.101 of Florida Statutes empowers FIPR to sponsor

research on radiation, water consumption and "other environmental effects of

phosphate mining and reclamation as may from time to time be deemed

reasonably necessary by the institute for the health, safety and welfare of

the citizens."

The institute gets around $3 million to $4 million per year in state

revenues derived from a portion of the state's severance tax on phosphate

mining. That would amount to some $100 million over the past 30 years.

At least one environmental advocate, Glenn Compton, chairman of the

organization Manasota-88, has recently called for the Legislature to abolish

the organization. Compton has also requested the Office of Program Policy

Analysis and Government Accountability, an arm of the Legislature,

investigate to determine whether FIPR has met its legislative mandate.

OPPAGA has declined the request.

Compton argues that FIPR has spent millions of dollars studying how to make

use of its chief waste product, phosphogypsum, despite the fact its use

would conflict with a standard for radiation set by the U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency.

Yet, FIPR has never supported a comprehensive areawide study on the

cumulative impacts of mining, something the public has long requested,

Compton said.

"They're missing one of their biggest legislative intents, which is to

evaluate what phosphate mining is doing overall to the state of Florida," he


He suggests FIPR's funding be diverted to state agencies that regulate

mining and land conservation acquisition projects in the Central Florida

phosphate mining area.

A review of dozens of scientific reports published by the institute over the

past three decades shows it has conducted numerous studies on how to improve

the recovery of phosphate from the ore, find uses for such waste products as

clay slimes and phosphogypsum, and improve the way mined-out landscapes are


FIPR has also conducted about a half-dozen studies to determine whether

elevated levels of radioactivity commonly found on reclaimed mine sites pose

a risk to humans, fish, birds, turtles, alligators and armadillos.

Those studies have concluded, in general, that while some of the animals

were found to have higher-than-normal levels of radioactivity, the levels

were so low they posed no health concern.

Paul Clifford, FIPR executive director, pointed out that urban development

and agriculture also cause impacts to the environment.

"Those uses of the land are permanent," he argued. "Phosphate mines are


When told of that comment, Marion Ryan of Bartow laughed heartily.

There's nothing temporary about the landscape changes wrought by mining, she


As the Bone Valley issues chairwoman for the Florida Chapter of the Sierra

Club, Ryan has provided input on phosphate mining issues over the past 20

years, including as a former member of FIPR's own policy and education


She said she feels FIPR is biased and has failed to adequately research

significant impacts caused by mining. She cited, as an example, "the

destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitat and the permanent

alteration of natural (wildlife) communities."

Ryan acknowledged that phosphate mining companies have learned to adequately

create herbaceous wetlands on reclaimed mine sites. But the industry has

been less successful creating scrub and sandhill habitats.

"Obviously, since the phosphate industry has not proven they can restore

some of our most imperiled ecosystems, I think that's where the main focus

of the research needs to be," she said.

FIPR's educational committee helped organize the institute's annual

conferences, which served to advise school teachers how to incorporate

phosphate mining into their lesson plans.

"I ended up resigning ... because I thought they were doing way too much

whitewashing for the industry with the teachers in the educational

workshops," she said.

The phosphogypsum pileup

One series of studies conducted by FIPR -- to find a use for the slightly

radioactive waste phosphogypsum -- would provide an alternative to the

excavation of more pits for aggregates used in road base, concrete and


Phosphogypsum is the chemical leftover after the concentrated phosphate ore

is treated with sulfuric acid to create phosphoric acid, the main ingredient

in large-scale fertilizer formulas.

In the early days of mining, phosphate companies around the world merely

dumped phosphogypsum into rivers or the oceans. That posed little problem

because the chemical dissolves in water, wrote Mike Lloyd, FIPR research

director, in a 1980s report.


But such disposal methods were not options in Central Florida in recent

history. So, area companies have been piling up the material in gigantic

"stacks" at least since the 1960s.

It's been piling up at the rate of 30 million tons per year ever since. The

stacks now store nearly 1 billion tons, according to FIPR.

The stacks pose an environmental liability because they contain ponds of

acidic waste water that have contaminated streams and estuaries in spills

and emergency discharges.

The institute has experimented with using phosphogypsum as a material in

road base, asphalt, glass and concrete and as an agricultural soil


The studies included building two roads with phosphogypsum bases in Polk and

Columbia counties.

Those experiments proved that the increase in radioactivity is so small

compared to natural background levels it would have no effect on human

health, said Clifford.

Ironically, one FIPR-sponsored study cited the impacts of mining to

demonstrate that using phosphogypsum would be better for the environment

than providing road base from "borrow pits," which are excavations for

shell, sand or dirt.

The study, conducted in 2000 by Patricia Dooris of the University of South

Florida, concluded that the excavation of 114 acres of pits for a 12-mile

road in Hillsborough County drained several wetlands offsite and caused the

relocation of 147 species of animals.

The study did not explore whether similar impacts could be expected on

300,000 acres of phosphate mining in Central Florida.


Yet, the EPA, which has prohibited the use of phosphogypsum, wouldn't budge.

"The EPA's policy is based on mathematical speculation," Clifford explained.

"They made the assumption that the road (built on phosphogypsum) would be

abandoned and people would build a house on it, and live in the house for 70

years, and stay in the house most of the day.

"In that case, the use of phosphogypsum would slightly exceed the criteria

for acceptable levels of radiation exposure."

Still, the phosphogypsum research serves "a pretty good environmental

purpose -- the reuse of a material that is now considered a waste," said


Tomorrow: Making mining efficient, the clay quagmire, and what about fuel



Staff Writer

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