The Tampa Tribune recently ran a story about a small band of Hillsborough County residents who are teaming up and gathering petitions against Mosaic Co.’s proposal to expand its Fort Lonesome and Four Corners phosphate mining operations by 1,599 acres.
Residents worry about contamination to their wells and toxic dust blowing in the wind, sometimes so thick you need your car’s headlights turned on during the day in order to drive the nearby roads. They worry about cancer and respiratory illness. They worry about the constant noise of draglines. They want independent water testing and monitoring in addition to Mosaic’s water quality tests. Their peace of mind has been shattered!
They have reason to worry as the current strip mining process takes an enormous toll on Florida’s environment and adversely affects those who live nearby.
Tampa Bay Sierra Club and our Florida Chapter share their concerns and support protection for the Bone Valley ecosystems, which include the Peace River Basin from the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern in the north to and including the Charlotte Harbor Marine Estuary in the south and the Lake Whales Ridge in the east to the Tampa Bay Marine Estuary in the west. Our goals include the protection and restoration of wildlife habitat, ecosystem connectivity and water quality and quantity.
We are opposed to Mosaic’s request for expansion of their mining operations in the Ft. Lonesome/Wimauma/Grange Hall Loop area of southern Hillsborough County and strongly urge the Board of County Commissioners to deny this request.
To extract the phosphate, huge draglines remove the top layer of soil, and then scoop up the phosphate matrix (the solid matter in which fossils are embedded). The phosphate ore is mixed with sulfuric acid creating phosphoric acid that is used in fertilizer.
This process produces a radioactive byproduct containing heavy metals, known as phosphogypsum. The source of the gypsum’s radioactivity is the presence of uranium and uranium’s decay products such as radium in raw phosphate ore. Though uranium and its decay products occur naturally in phosphate ore, their concentrations in the gypsum waste, after the extraction of soluble phosphate, are up to 60 times greater.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 32 million tons of gypsum waste is created each year by the phosphate industry in Central Florida alone! Radium can cause cancer if inhaled or ingested over a long period.
Another source of trouble is fluoride. When phosphate ore is processed into water-soluble phosphate, by adding the sulfuric acid, the fluoride content of the ore is vaporized into the air, forming highly toxic gaseous compounds (hydrogen fluoride and silicon tretrafluoride).
Prior to pollution control regulations, the gases were frequently released, causing serious environmental damage to foliage and poisoning to livestock and other animals. While improvements have been made in dealing with the fluoride by-products of the mining process, phosphate production continues to raise the Alafia River’s fluoride content to levels which cause concern that it cannot meet standards necessary for reclassification to a Class I water body.
We commend Mosaic on its successful reclamation projects, water and energy conservation policies and its promise to protect the environment, health and safety of employees and communities.
We urge Mosaic to be a good neighbor and to honor those commitments by working with the affected residents to solve the problems of dust, noise and water quality concerns.