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. Those 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 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
Yet, FIPR has never supported a comprehensive areawide study on the
cumulative impacts of mining, something the public has long requested,
"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
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
By GREG MARTIN
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