Expanding Phosphate Mining… Seriously?
Published Sunday, January 15, 2012 12:10 am
by Dennis Maley
As the Manatee County Commission gets set to vote on a Duette phosphate mining expansion recommended for approval by the county’s planning commission, we need to again ask when Florida is going to seriously evaluate the cost/benefit ratio of placating such a disaster-prone industry that has brought relatively little to the table, considering the havoc it’s reeked on our state.
The history of phosphate mining in Florida has been, on the whole, nothing short of disastrous. Locally, our experience over the decades with the Piney Point site should have permanently saddled each resident with a bad taste in their mouth. It’s a dirty business that threatens our environment, while gobbling up precious water supplies and destroying vital wetlands.
Mining phosphates also leaves behind a toxic substance called phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct of processing the phosphate, for which no safe use has been found. Dozens of these “gypsum stacks” already line the Florida landscape, and acidic wastewater sits in lined ponds waiting for tears to happen like the one which sent millions of gallons of hazardous discharge into local waters last year. In a hurricane-rich state, these dangers are only heightened.
The mining operations also produce plenty of fluoride gases that once upon a time escaped into the air and poisoned surrounding agriculture and livestock. Pollution control technology like wet scrubbers have helped to contain the fluoride, but it still needs to be disposed of. That’s where you come in. While the FDA has never approved fluoride ingestion for medical use, your body acts as a free filtration system when municipalities buy the toxin from such companies (with your tax money) and dump it into your drinking water, ostensibly to to prevent cavities – a practice that’s been compared to drinking sunscreen lotion to protect from a burn.
For their part, the fertilizer companies promote economic impact, jobs and feeding the world in their multi-million dollar PR campaigns that not only shine the public perception, but also provide fat accounts (and conflicts of interest) for the media outlets that might otherwise be more blunt in their assessments of the industry. But the fact remains, the biggest mining counties in the state are also the most economically depressed and the industry is among the least labor intensive, employing only a handful of people per acre of land mined.
Considering our experience with phosphate mining already, along with the future potential impact of the mining that’s already been done, it doesn’t seem sustainable or desirable to continue going down this path with a resource-intensive industry whose footprint long outlasts the short term and seemingly short-sided benefits.
Dennis Maley is a featured columnist and editor for The Bradenton Times. His column appears every Thursday and Sunday on our site and in our free Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.