EPA Conference – Phosphate Mining and the Environment

State of the Science on Phosphate Mining and the Environment:

March 28-29, 2011

State of the Science on Phosphate Mining and the Environment

Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Charlotte County Event & Conference Center

75 Taylor St, Punta Gorda, FL

Monday-Tuesday, March 28-29, 2011 This State of the Science Conference aims to present current and detailed scientific information about the environmental effects and reclamation of phosphate mining in Florida, with an emphasis on revealing data gaps, information needs, and conclusions from existing studies or research. Presentations will focus on scientific, economic, and technical issues.

EPA Sets Stage For Massive Cleanup Of Homes On Radioactive Mine Sites

Superfund Report – 02/07/2011
EPA Sets Stage For Massive Cleanup Of Homes On Radioactive Mine Sites
Posted: February 4, 2011
EPA has begun aerial surveys of former phosphate mines in central Florida where it fears tens of thousands people may be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation – a key step that could put the agency on the path toward conducting a potentially precedent-setting cleanup of the area.
The surveys – which have been on hold for years as EPA disputed cleanup standards with state and industry officials – could also lay the groundwork for citizen lawsuits that could potentially force mining companies to clean up the area if the agency does not act on its own, a lawyer following the issue says.
At issue are approximately 10 square miles of former phosphate mining lands near Lakeland, FL, where EPA has taken no cleanup action despite having concerns since the late 1970s that the indoor air of homes built on the lands is contaminated with cancer-causing levels of radiation. A fight between EPA, state and industry officials over the appropriate cleanup standard for the sites, along with the potentially overwhelming cost of conducting such a massive cleanup – as much as $11 billion by some estimates – have been among the reasons for the delay (Superfund Report, Sept. 3).
EPA has long considered aerial surveys to be the next step to addressing its concerns about residential exposure because they would enable the agency to better characterize how much of the land in question is contaminated and to what extent. State and federal officials drafted documents in preparation for such surveys in 2006, but the work was delayed as a result of the dispute over cleanup standards, a former EPA official previously told Inside EPA.
According to documents Inside EPA recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), planning to conduct an aerial survey of a limited number of sites was again underway in 2008, but the plans were never executed. But a January 2010 Inside EPA article that for the first time made EPA’s concerns about the area public “prompted renewed interest in the sites,” according to a February 2010 request from EPA Region IV staff to have a meeting about the issue with then-Acting Regional Administrator Stan Meiburg. Among the interest the article generated were requests from officials at EPA headquarters and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) – then chairman of the House Environment Subcommittee – for briefings on the issue from the Region IV staff.
Following these requests, internal discussions regarding aerial surveys resumed, the FOIA documents show, and according to a source with direct knowledge of the surveys, federal contractors completed some survey work on behalf of EPA in January 2011. The source declined to discuss the survey results, however, and it is unclear exactly what EPA’s next steps will be.
EPA officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Surveying the area, however, is an important step that could provide EPA with key information that the agency would need in order to conduct a cleanup of the site, the lawyer following the issue says. Without comprehensive survey data, EPA has been unable to determine exactly how bad the problem is, how widespread it is, and exactly how many homes might have to be cleaned up, the lawyer notes.
If EPA does not initiate a cleanup, the data it collects in such surveys could be be used by residents to launch lawsuits against the companies that mined the area, the lawyer says. If successful, such suits could force the companies to conduct cleanup work on their own or to pay damages to the affected residents, the lawyer adds.
One case in which two central Florida residents sought to hold phosphate mining companies liable for radioactive contamination on their property recently settled for an undisclosed amount, although the case dealt primarily with drinking water contamination rather than indoor air contamination.
In the suit, which had been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Charlie and Kimberly Gates alleged the Mosaic Company, W.R. Grace & Co., Seminole Fertilizer Corporation and Cargill Fertilizer Inc. were responsible for polluting their private drinking water well at their former home in Bartow, FL, and ultimately causing Charlie Gates to contract leukemia. Relevant documents are available on InsideEPA.com.
If EPA does pursue cleanup of the area, the cleanup standards it chooses could set a precedent for future phosphate mine cleanups in Florida and other states, and for sites contaminated with radioactive materials generally. The traditional EPA cleanup standard under Superfund dictates that concentrations of radium-226 – the radioactive substance left behind on former phosphate mine lands – should not exceed 5 picocuries per gram (pCi/g) of soil. But state and industry officials consider the 5 pCi/g standard “overly conservative” and argue no cleanup is necessary unless people are receiving a dose of more than 500 millirems of radiation per year (mrem/year).
If EPA were to accept 500 mrem as a protective standard for the Florida sites, it would set a negative and far-reaching precedent for future radioactive cleanups around the country, environmentalists have said. “EPA has for years said 100 millirem is way outside the [Superfund] risk range,” one activist said previously. “This would be EPA living in a different universe.”
Industry has in the past expressed its contrary view in statements to Inside EPA and closed-door meetings with EPA officials, and according to the recent FOIA documents, such meetings resumed during the past year. One such meeting took place on April 15, 2010, the documents show. According to a letter Mosaic officials sent to EPA in advance of the meeting, the company hoped “to gain an understanding of EPA’s current viewpoint on the issue of radiation on mined lands and whether [the agency’s] focus is on public health or something else.”
Mosaic also sought “to engage in a discussion of what EPA believes is the likely path to set standards, gather data, manage risks, and communicate regarding the radiation issue,” the letter says. “Mosaic, as the largest phosphate mining company in Florida, is interested in what actions the industry can take to engage proactively with EPA, other state and federal agencies, and the residents of Florida toward appropriate next steps.”
The FOIA documents also show that some Region IV officials had concerns about Mosaic’s plans to build a resort on some former phosphate mines near Fort Meade, FL, and suggested to their colleagues that the area be checked out before construction begins.
A spokesman for Mosaic says the April meeting featured “the same topic of discussion” as prior meetings on the issue and that there has “been very little conversation beyond the discussion of an appropriate standard.” – Douglas P. Guarino
© 2000-2011. Inside Washington Publishers

EPA Radiation Protection Standards

As a result of the presence of elevated concentrations of radium-226 and other radionuclides in phosphate ores and mining wastes, many individuals residing in Central Florida are exposed to undesirable levels of radiation. In the absence of adequate measures to protect public health, many more could be exposed in the future, depending upon developing mining and land use patterns. The major exposure problem is associated with structures, principally residences, that are constructed on, near, or using radium-bearing materials related to phosphate ores…. In the United States, the phosphate deposits of Florida contain concentrations of uranium and its decay products at levels about 30-60 times greater than those found in average soil and rock. The presence of this radioactive material in extensive land areas in Central and Northern Florida creates the potential for radiation exposure of the general population living on or near this land.

Read the study here:

EPA Radiation Protection Standards

84,000,000 gallons of contaminated water drain into White Springs sinkhole

The state Department of Environmental Protection has created a new Web site to provide up-to-date information on its ongoing sampling and monitoring of the local water supply after 84 million gallons of contaminated water was released in a spill at PCS in White Springs.  This comes after discovery of a sinkhole inside a phosphogypsum stack system at PCS’s Swift Creek Chemical Complex on Dec. 10. The Swift Creek Chemical Complex is located just east of US 41, about 10 miles northwest of White Springs. The stack system stores process wastewater and gypsum resulting from PCS’ phosphate fertilizer manufacturing operations at this site, according to a DEP press release. “Based on site inspections and ongoing collection of monitoring data, it appears that PCS’s production wells are containing the process water on site and not contaminating the aquifer offsite or nearby potable drinking water wells,” according to a DEP press release. “In an abundance of caution DEP has continued its monitoring of the process wells, local private wells and the waters of the Suwannee River.”  The gypsum stack in which the sinkhole formed is about 140 to 150 feet above ground level, according to DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller. The sinkhole was about 40 to 50 feet in diameter with a depth of at least 100 feet below surface level, said Miller. The deepest production wells are 750-800 feet deep.  “Aerial surveys and exploratory drilling are being conducted to gather information about the depth and geometry of the subsurface opening which will allow more precise measurement and guidance in grouting the sinkhole,” Miller said.  Furthermore, Miller said no processed water was released before PCS was able to turn on its wells.  “PCS already had wells in operation at the time of the formation, additional wells were put into operation within the hour to make sure they were doing everything they could do to capture the release,” said Miller.  Miller confirmed that some broken chunks of gypsum did fall into the sinkhole. Miller also said there is not a synthetic liner beneath the gypsum stack, but rather a natural clay barrier below the stack area. Concerned citizens can now view the new Web page, which provides up-to-date information on DEP’s ongoing sampling and monitoring: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/pcs_sinkhole.htm  “This new webpage allows us to make the information about these efforts readily available to the public,” said Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs, Mimi Drew in a press release. “We want the public to have real-time information and data about our efforts.”  Residents are encouraged to contact DEP directly with questions and concerns at 850-488-8217. Citizens who may be concerned about their drinking water supply can contact the Hamilton County Health Department at 386-792-1414.  Copyright © 1999-2010 cnhi, inc.

By Stephenie Livingston, Reporter January 08, 2010 11:25 am, Suwanee Democrat

EPA Recommendation for Areawide EIS

The EPA reiterates its recommendation that the Army Corps of Engineers order an ‘area-wide Environmental Impact Statement before issuing a 404 Dredge and Fill permit for the South Fort Meade Mine Hardee County Extension (10,885 acres). The environmental community and various counties have been calling for this study for 18 years. It would require the mining industry to account for all past, present, and future impacts on the Peace River basin – including clay waste disposal, radio-activity on reclaimed land, and phosphogypsum stacks.

Read it here: EPA Recommendation for Areawide EIS

EPA Sets Scope for Mining Study

EPA Sets Scope for Mining Study

Charlotte Sun

March 17, 2010


‘Sensitive’ area needs impact study, says chief

Calling the Peace River watershed an “important and environmentally sensitive mining region,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency again called for a comprehensive regional impact study on phosphate strip mining within the watershed this week.

The EPA has long advocated an Area-Wide Environmental Impact Study for the Bone Valley phosphate reserve, but Mosaic Fertilizer’s request for a 21-year permit to strip mine its 11,000-acre South Fort Meade Extension triggered the agency to renew that call, wrote Thomas Welborn, chief of the EPA’s wetlands, coastal and oceans branch.

His March 10 letter was written to Col. Alfred A. Pantano Jr., district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which grants permits for wetland impacts.

The EPA and dozens of environmental groups, political leaders, local governments and residents have been requesting the study for more than a decade. But to date, the corps has denied the requests.

The EPA’s latest letter serves as a follow-up to one sent by the EPA Dec. 15, which said Mosaic’s application for permits to mine the South Fort Meade Extension, located on the Peace River near Fort Meade, falls short in wetlands mitigation. In that letter, the EPA also called for the areawide study.

“(The) EPA is interested in developing a new approach in 404 permit review, to include consideration of overall cumulative impacts within the Bone Valley, rather than incremental review of permits and their associated impacts,” Welborn wrote. “We would like to do this in cooperation and partnership with the ACOE.”

The ACOE has not had a chance to review the EPA’s letter or prepare a response, said Chuck Schnepel, chief of permitting for the corps’ Jacksonville-based district. He declined further comment.

Jim Cooper of Protect Our Watershed, which has lobbied for the study, called the EPA’s letter “a milestone.”

“For a long time, EPA officials have referenced an EIS, but this is much more comprehensive,” he said. “It would be projectwide, studying phosphate mining throughout the Bone Valley, past, present and future.

“It’s very important they knit this tapestry of impacts together and understand, with several of these mines operating simultaneously, these impacts need to be accumulated and taken into account.”

Russell Schweiss, Mosaic’s manager of public affairs, said: “Let’s be clear on one point: The industry has no control over a decision to conduct an Area-Wide EIS. It’s not our call and never has been.

“That said, our consistent position has been that we don’t object to the concept of an Area-Wide EIS, as long as it looks at all impacts, not just the phosphate industry. We don’t see how a study of environmental impacts can be scientifically valid without looking at impacts such as urbanization, development and other land uses that, in many cases, have a far greater footprint in the region.”

Welborn pointed out the EPA has designated the Peace River Watershed as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. Florida also has declared the river a Priority Watershed.

That indicates both governments have agreed to restore its impaired waters and protect them from further impacts, Welborn wrote.

He also pointed out the Peace provides water to the Charlotte Harbor estuary and 700,000 residents.

Welborn suggested the study determine:

* How mining and other developments will affect compliance with Total Maximum Daily Load limits for pollutants such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which are big factors in the Peace’s impairment.

* What impacts are caused by the giant berms, stacks of phosphogypsum waste and stockpiles of ore created by the phosphate industry.

* Whether the future redevelopment of reclaimed mines into subdivisions, shopping centers or recreational sites will pose impacts or radiation hazards.

Welborn also expressed support for the ACOE’s recent suggestion to convene a “phosphate summit” to address the impacts.

E-mail: gmartin@sun-herald.com


Staff Writer