EPA Petitioned to Protect Communities, Environment From Radioactive Phosphogypsum Stacks, Wastewater
WASHINGTON— Conservation and public-health groups petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency today to improve federal oversight of the radioactive waste produced by phosphogypsum facilities, including wastewater from phosphoric acid production.
Phosphogypsum and process wastewater from phosphogypsum facilities are currently excluded from certain federal hazardous waste regulations.
Today’s petition asks the EPA to begin overseeing the safe treatment, storage and disposal of phosphogypsum and process wastewater, as required under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Toxic Substances Control Act.
“Many people are living near vulnerable mountains of radioactive, toxic waste known as gypsum stacks without even knowing what they are, let alone the risks to environmental and public health they present,” said Brooks Armstrong, of People for Protecting Peace River. “People living near phosphogypsum stacks, downstream communities, the wider public and wildlife depend on a drinking water supply which flows under these stacks. We deserve maximum protection from these gypsum stacks by our EPA. As of now, we are getting virtually none.”
Phosphogypsum is the radioactive waste from processing phosphate ore into phosphoric acid, which is predominantly used in fertilizer. Radium-226, found in phosphogypsum, has a 1,600-year radioactive decay half-life. In addition to high concentrations of radioactive materials, phosphogypsum and process wastewater can also contain carcinogens and heavy toxic metals like antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc.
“These towering stacks of radioactive waste continue to pose an unacceptable risk to the environment and nearby communities,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “They’re prone to massive sinkholes and spills that put our groundwater and recreational waters at risk and threaten public health. The EPA must face the facts and act quickly to avert the next environmental disaster.”
The petition asks the EPA, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Toxic Substances Control Act, to:
- Reverse its 1991 regulatory determination that excludes phosphogypsum and process wastewater from hazardous waste regulations;
- Govern the safe treatment, storage and disposal of phosphogypsum and process wastewater as hazardous wastes;
- Initiate the process for designating phosphogypsum and process wastewater as high-priority substances for risk evaluation;
- Require manufacturers to conduct testing on phosphogypsum and process wastewater; and
- Determine that the use of phosphogypsum in road construction is a significant new use that requires a determination on whether it is safe.
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