Clean water is paramount to both livelihoods and lifeways in Florida. Yet, the state’s historic pollution from failing wastewater and agricultural and urban runoff, devastating harmful algal blooms, and calamitous collapse of once vital marine and estuarine ecosystems persist. At a time when the state should be doubling down on measures to prevent pollution at the source, members of the legislature are working swiftly to pass a bill that would allow for the use of phosphogypsum in road construction. The EPA currently prohibits the use of this toxic substance due to unacceptable risk it poses to public and environmental health.
HB1191 / SB 1258 Use of Phosphogypsum by State Representative Maggard (R-54) and State Senator Trumball (R-2) would allow for the Florida Department of Transportation to undertake ‘demonstration projects’ or a pilot study to for the feasibility of using this toxic waste in road bed projects. Phosphogypsum is the radioactive waste created from the production of fertilizer. It releases cancer-causing radon gas and can also include heavy metals and carcinogens. While the EPA requires that it is stored in ‘gypstacks’, they are prone to failure.
This failure was never more clear than in 2021, when there was a leak in a containment wall at the Piney Point fertilizer plant in Manatee County, Florida. To prevent total failure, and triggering a local state of emergency, hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater from a gypstack in the plant were discharged into Tampa Bay. What ensued was a water quality emergency that exacerbated what would become one of the worst red tide events in 50 years and killed 1,600 tons of marine life. Surfrider’s Suncoast Chapter led the charge locally to call on the Governor and his administration to hold the fertilizer industry accountable for polluting Florida’s waterways and ending the dirty practice of phosphate mining and fertilizer production in Florida.
Using phosphogypsum in roads is sure to fuel radioactive stormwater runoff and cause irrevocable harm to our waterways. To protect clean water and prevent further harm to Florida’s treasured marine environments, Surfrider’s Florida network is taking action to fight this bad bill for water quality. We worked to support an amendment on the Senate bill that would, at a bare minimum, require analysis of environmental impact in the demonstration study. The amendment failed, and the current supermajority has all but ensured that this toxic legislation will be headed to the Governor’s desk. Surfrider is activating alongside environmental partners across the state to urge Governor DeSantis to veto HB1191 / SB1258 and prevent toxic pollution in Florida’s waters.