This article by Craig Pittman appeared in the October 1, 2015 Tampa Bay Times. It’s worth a few minutes to read it again. We’re sure Mosaic would like everyone to forget about it.
This will make you laugh and cringe at the same time. Florida is not alone. There will probably be an ad to sit through but it is worth the wait.
POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Some residents who live near the massive sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales Plant are worried about their well water.
Recent test results show they should be concerned because of high levels of radioactive material. What is not clear is whether the Mosaic sinkhole, which dropped 215 million gallons of radioactive water into the Florida aquifer, has anything to do with it.
Mosaic – and some experts – say it’s possible the radioactivity was already present in some of these wells. They said it could have been caused by by “natural geologic processes.” Testing so far, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, show the contaminated water has been captured exactly the way it should be.
A DEP spokeswoman sent 8 On Your Side an email that said test results do not show that contaminants from the New Wales plant are showing up in the well water. There are certain characteristics from the New Wales water that are not showing up in the well water, leading the state to conclude the harmful materials in the water are unrelated to the sinkhole. The state official wrote:
“The ongoing monitoring onsite at the New Wales facility continues to show no movement of process water away from the sinkhole location. Process water is only being detected in the recovery well samples to date, which indicates that the recovery well is working as expected and capturing process water. In this geographic region of Florida, levels of gross alpha that are above the drinking water standard are often associated with natural geologic processes. In other cases, they may be related to the construction of the water well itself. ”
But resident Jennifer Psait isn’t sure she’s buying that. She points to a delay in Mosaic notifying residents about the problems.
One of two wells on Bob Glaze’s property has so much radium in the brown water that he shut it off – out of fear. Psait is Glaze’s next-door tenant. She shares his two wells. Psait is worried about her three children who, until recently, drank and bathed in the water
“I’m not a chemist, or a chemistry student,” she said. “I think that’s pretty bad.”
Water tests show radium levels of 52.01 picocuries per liter – that’s more than five times the acceptable standard. Psait is concerned about the lack of information from Mosaic officials. And she’s leery of what they do tell her, since the company wasn’t forthcoming, at first, when the sinkhole opened in late August.
“The thing I really don’t respect about them is that they knew that had happened, even when they had coordinated with the legislature and they didn’t report it to the public. They only reported it when it started getting leaked,” Psait said.
The Mosaic sinkhole dropped more than 215 million gallons of radioactive water into the Florida aquifer. The company has tested 763 nearby wells and say 10 show water that’s not safe to drink. But the company takes no responsibility for this, saying the radioactive materials are just a coincidence.
DEP officials say they are trying to contact all of the residents with wells that showed contaminated water and will assist those residents in determining how to fix their water issues. In the meantime, Mosaic continues to deliver drinking water to residents who request it.
Stuart Cooper Flouride Action Network October 7, 2015
The company that gets rid of highly toxic wastes by selling them as a “product” to municipal water departments across the country as cheap fluoridation chemicals has been fined $2 billion for gross violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), reports the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).
Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC, is one of the largest sellers of a toxic fluoride chemical, “fluorosilicic acid”, that cities add to public drinking water. Fluorosilicic acid is described by EPA in the Consent Decrees as a “hazardous waste” produced at Mosaic’s fertilizer plants. More than 200 million Americans drink these wastes every day.
For decades Mosaic has been selling fluoridation chemicals to public drinking water systems across the U.S. This Kafkaesque scheme, approved by EPA, benefits the polluter in the belief that it helps the teeth of the poor, according to FAN. The fine was levied on October 1st by the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice. These wastes are produced at Mosaic’s six phosphate fertilizer plants in Florida and two in Louisiana.
“It’s outrageous that Mosaic is allowed to sell an EPA ‘hazardous waste’ to dump into the drinking water used in most major U.S. cities,” says FAN scientist Dr. Neil Carman. Dr. William Hirzy, also with FAN, added, “This loophole needs to be closed by the EPA. It was not addressed in the Consent Decrees which allow Mosaic to continue selling a hazardous waste to the public disguised as a way to boost fluoride in drinking water.”
The RCRA laws govern the storage, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste. Mosaic’s 60 billion pounds of improperly handled hazardous waste cited by EPA is the largest amount ever covered by an RCRA settlement. Mosaic’s wastes have also caused huge local environmental problems, due largely to their high fluoride levels. The fluoride, not captured in pollution control devices and sold for water fluoridation, ends up in their liquid and solid wastes. Other toxic constituents include arsenic, lead, cadmium, uranium, and radium. Enormous quantities of these wastes have been stored for years in so-called gypsum stacks. They will never become non-toxic, and these open hazardous waste piles have regularly leaked into rivers and groundwater causing huge fish kills and other problems.
SHARE THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE
For an overview of the phosphate fertilizer industry see http://fluoridealert.org/articles/phosphat
Matt Dixon, Naples News
5:04 PM, Dec 18, 2014
Federal and state environmental officials are negotiating in hopes of reaching a settlement with Mosaic, among the world’s largest fertilizer companies, over whether it “mishandled hazardous waste” at some of its Florida facilities.
The issue could ultimately cost the company hundreds-of-millions of dollars in facility upgrades and trust fund payments, in addition to a possible penalty of more than $1 million, according to state records and regulatory filings.
It’s part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s crackdown on hazardous waste created by the mineral processing industry.
“The negotiations involving Mosaic are complex and ongoing,” said company spokesman Richard Ghent. “We are negotiating in good faith and we look forward to a successful resolution of the matter.”
Phosphate Ore is the mineral that companies mine and process when producing fertilizer. The toxic byproduct created by the process is stored in up to 200-foot tall piles known as “gypstacks,” which are called “mountains off hazardous waste” by some environmental groups.
“They can sometimes overflow and spill their toxic waste after strong storms or prolonged rain events,” the Sierra Club Florida wrote in a brochure about gypstacks.
The first settlement related to the EPA’s efforts was in 2010 between C.F. Industries, which operated a Plant City fertilizer plant, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Under the settlement, the company agreed to spend $12 million to reduce the release of hazardous waste, and pay a $700,000 fine. In 2013, Mosaic spent $1.2 billion to buy CF Industry’s Central Florida-based phosphate business, which produce 1.8 million tons of phosphate fertilizer annually.
The phosphate mining company Mosaic is currently seeking permits that will allow them to mine more than 50,000 acres in Manatee, DeSoto and Hardee Counties. These mines will negatively affect the Peace River watershed water and Myakahatchee Creek which provide both Sarasota and North Port with drinking water, and encroach on Myakka State Park. Since Mosaic now owns exclusively all the phosphate reserves in west central Florida, people may wonder why you can scarcely turn on a radio or television these days without hearing or seeing their advertisements? Why do they blanket area newspapers with their reassurances and promises, with direct mailings and billboards extolling their virtues as trustworthy “stewards of the land,” planters of trees, and conservers of water resources? The answer is simple: Mosaic doesn’t need to sell its product in Florida since its main customers are huge fertilizer consortiums in Brazil, India and China. Here Mosaic needs only to sell its image and its brand. Continue reading “Orchids and Strip Mines Don’t Mix 2013”
by Douglas Guarino
The Environmental Protection Agency is walking away after a decades-long battle with Florida politicians and industry officials over cleaning up phosphate-mining waste in an area that could expose more than 100,000 residents to cancer-causing radiation levels.
Under a decision quietly finalized two weeks ago, the federal agency will leave it to state officials to decide the fate of the sites in and around Lakeland, an approximately 10-square-mile residential area midway between Orlando and Tampa.
However, Florida officials have long argued that the affected area need not be cleaned up in the absence of radiation levels well above what EPA policy would normally permit. The decision not to enforce the usual federal rules could have far-reaching implications for how the United States deals with future radioactive contamination anywhere across the country — regardless of whether it is caused by conventional industrial activities or illicit radiological weapons, critics say.
In a joint statement to Global Security Newswire, the Florida health and environment departments say they have no plans to examine the sites further, despite prior recommendations by federal officials that an aerial radiation survey of the area is needed. The state officials say they already have enough historical data pertaining to the sites, and that additional monitoring is not necessary.
The statement, provided to GSN by Florida environmental protection spokeswoman Mara Burger, suggests the EPA decision not to clean up the sites under its Superfund program indicated that the federal agency did not consider the Lakeland area “problematic” from a public health standpoint.
Under Superfund law, the federal agency is authorized to remediate contaminated sites that pose a threat to public health and the environment.
Internal documents released under the Freedom of Information Act in recent years show, however, that the federal agency’s lack of action was the result of state and industry opposition, and that EPA officials did in fact believe the sites could pose a serious public health threat.
“It’s probably the worst site EPA could clean up from a public health standpoint, when you consider the number of potential cancers and the size of the affected population,” one source familiar with the Florida case told GSN. The source was not authorized to discuss the issue and asked not to be named in this article.
In response to questions about the matter, EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris Young did not address whether the sites posed a health risk. She said only that the state had separate “regulatory and educational programs in place.”
“EPA believes that addressing all of the former phosphate mines under one regulatory scheme would provide regulatory consistency for the landowners, businesses and residents of Florida,” the federal agency spokeswoman said.
The EPA decision not to enforce its Superfund standards at the Florida sites is consistent with a controversial new guide for dealing with the aftermath of dirty bomb attacks, nuclear power-plant meltdowns and other radiological incidents that the agency published last year, Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear policy lecturer at the University of California-Santa Cruz, told GSN.
Documents GSN obtained in 2013 prompted concern among critics that EPA officials are looking to use the new guide — which is backed by the nuclear power industry — as a means for relaxing its radiation standards.
The agency’s approach to the Florida case lends further credence to the concern that it is backing away from its long-held radiological cleanup rules generally, Hirsch said.
“The agency is lowering the EPA flag outside the building and raising the white flag of surrender,” he quipped.
THREE DECADES OF CONCERN
Although government officials have said little about the Florida situation publicly, federal involvement at the sites surrounding Lakeland began in 1979. That’s when EPA scientists first warned their superiors that the area could pose a health threat.
The scientists noted that past phosphate mining had created elevated concentrations of radium-226 in the area’s soil. Radium produces gamma rays that can penetrate the body and increase the risk for a variety of cancers. Inhaling or ingesting the uranium byproduct can increase the risk of leukemia, lymphoma and bone cancer, specifically.
In addition, the decay of radium creates radon, an odorless, radioactive gas that can increase the risk of lung cancer by seeping into homes and polluting indoor air.
Given these risks, the EPA scientists advised that no new homes should be built on the sites until further studies were completed, but the agency took no action and residential development continued.
The Environmental Protection Agency paid little attention to the Lakeland area sites until the new millennium, agency documents show. By that time, agency officials estimated that as many as 120,000 people living on 40,000 residential parcels could be exposed to unsafe radiation levels.
In 2003, EPA officials deemed the potential problem at one Lakeland subdivision — an upscale development of about 500 homes called “Oakbridge” — to be so bad that they considered it a candidate for emergency cleanup action. Low-income and minority communities might also be affected, internal documents show — creating so-called “environmental justice” concerns for the agency.
Regional politics intervened, however, and the agency did little more in the way of studying the issue over the subsequent decade. Residents were not warned of the EPA concerns and no remedial actions were taken.
Phosphate mining industry officials, who represent the second largest revenue-producing enterprise in the Sunshine State, made it known in private meetings that they strongly opposed the agency declaring the parcels Superfund sites. Such a move could make mining companies liable for as much as $11 billion in cleanup costs, according to estimates of the potential scope of the contamination that the EPA inspector general included in a 2004 report.
State health and environment officials operating under Republican governorships sided with industry, taking the position that no cleanup action was necessary if residents were being exposed to less than 500 millirems of radiation per year. State officials said this approach was permissible under guidelines suggested by the privately run National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.
However, at the 500-millirem-per-year level, the cancer risk for humans is roughly 1 in 40, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry noted in a 2006 internal report it prepared regarding the Florida dispute.
EPA cleanup policy dictates that, in a worst-case scenario, no more than one in 10,000 people should be put at risk for developing cancer from manmade contamination.
Following 2010 news reports about the standoff, EPA officials began making preparations for an aerial radiation survey that was to enable them to get a better handle on the scope and severity of the problem. The plans stalled, however, after a group of Republican lawmakers from Florida — siding with state and mining-industry officials — pressured the agency not to conduct the survey.
Last March, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposed that the state — rather than the federal government — direct all future actions pertaining to the sites, according to a March 13 letter sent by Jorge Caspary, waste management director at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, to Franklin Hill, EPA Region 4 Superfund director.
Hill agreed to the Florida proposal in a letter back to Caspary earlier this month.
The Jan. 14 letter suggests that after more than three decades of internal concerns about residents’ health — and years of disagreement with the state and mining industry — the federal government is walking away from the sites permanently.
“Because the state would manage the phosphate mining sites that were historically listed in [the EPA Superfund database] under Florida’s existing programs, there would be no further federal interest in these sites under Superfund and EPA would change their [database] status to ‘Archived,'” Hill wrote.
In the letter, Hill does not explicitly agree with Florida’s previously stated position that cleanup action is unnecessary unless residents are being exposed to more than 500 millirems of radiation per year. In fact, the correspondence between Hill and Caspary makes no mention of numerical cleanup thresholds at all.
In their statement to GSN, the Florida environmental protection and health departments said it is “not necessarily the case” that they would take no remedial action unless residents are being exposed to more than 500 millirems of radiation per year.
For instance, residents might be exposed to gamma ray radiation through direct contact with radium-contaminated soil in their yards. Florida officials say that while they have no plans to investigate the sites further, they hypothetically would consider taking action if such exposure caused residents to receive a dose of more than 100 millirems of radiation per year. At this level, about one in 300 people would be expected to develop cancer — a risk 30 times greater than the EPA worst-case-scenario of one in 10,000.
Even then, however, “the state would need additional site specific information in order to determine what actions may be needed, including whether work should be done to mitigate risk or otherwise remediate the site,” state officials said.
Florida officials say they do not believe direct exposure to radiation from the soil is a significant risk, and that the main factor in determining whether there is a public health concern at a home should instead be the amount of radon gas polluting indoor air. Mitigating indoor radon contamination is generally cheaper than cleaning up radium-contaminated soil. Indoor radon pollution can often be addressed though the installation of ventilation systems beneath homes, while cleanup of radium-contaminated soil can require massive excavation projects.
But according to critics, focusing on radon — and not soil contamination — is a dramatic break from how the federal government would normally address such a site. For one thing, this approach does not account for the body-penetrating gamma rays residents might be exposed to through more direct contact with the soil in their yards. Nor does it factor in the risk of inhaling or ingesting the contamination.
In addition, the EPA reference level that state officials say they would use to determine whether action is needed to address indoor radon pollution is not based on health considerations. Instead, it is based on how much radon current ventilation technology is capable of eliminating.
According to the federal agency’s website, there is no “safe” level of radon exposure. However, it can be difficult to reduce radon levels much lower than 4 picocuries per liter of air — the level that Florida officials are using as their threshold for health concerns. Congress passed legislation in 1988 setting a goal of reducing indoor radon levels to between 0.2 and 0.7 picocuries per liter, but the technology needed to meet that goal does not yet exist.
One in 43 people would be expected to die of cancer from a lifetime of radon exposure at the 4 picocurie per liter level, the EPA website says. The average level of radon in homes is about 1.25 picocuries per liter.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
While the EPA Superfund program considers the amount of radon gas entering homes, its decisions regarding whether to remediate manmade radium contamination are usually driven largely by how much of the radioactive metal is present in the soil. For radium in soil, the threshold the federal agency normally uses is 5 picocuries per gram, not including the amount of radium that would occur in soil naturally. It is at this level of radium and below that the agency would consider a site to be in compliance with its cancer risk guidelines.
In its 2006 report, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry noted that the federal government has relied upon the 5 picocurie per gram of soil standard at many sites, and listed some in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New York and Michigan as examples. However, Florida officials considered the threshold to be “overly conservative,” the federal agency’s report noted.
At the time, Florida officials were pushing for the 500 millirem per year radiation dose limit to be used as a threshold, though they now say they would focus largely on radon in indoor air, with the possible 100 millirem per year dose threshold for exposure to gamma rays from radium in the soil.
Either way, not relying on the 5 picocurie per gram of soil threshold as a trigger for remedial action is a major departure from normal EPA policy, critics say.
Until now, “I’ve never heard of them abandoning their 5 picocurie per gram limit — that’s used all over the place,” Hirsch told GSN. “What EPA ought to face is that it looks as though, under political pressure, they’ve undermined their entire regulatory structure for cleanup of radium-contaminated soils.”
According to EPA documents released in recent years under the Freedom of Information Act, a lack of financial resources has contributed to the agency’s reluctance to enforce its usual public health standards at the Florida sites.
Normally, the agency can conduct cleanups on its own terms and then sue the companies it believes are responsible for the contamination in order to recoup its costs.
However, a tight budget environment — along with the anticipated enormous scope of the contamination in Florida — gave the agency little leverage in negotiations with the phosphate mining industry, according to the EPA documents.
Industry officials made clear they were not interested in assisting with a cleanup conducted along the lines of the agency’s usual Superfund protocols. Without sufficient federal funds available, EPA officials could not credibly threaten to force industry’s hand.
Meanwhile, Florida Republicans in Congress argued that the phosphate industry was too important to the state’s economy to risk harm by undertaking costly cleanup actions they thought unnecessary.
Faced with a difficult political situation, it appears that EPA officials tried to word the new agreement with Florida in a way that would defer oversight of the contaminated area to the state without acknowledging the difference between the state and federal public health standards, Hirsch said.
He suggested that the omission of numerical standards in the Hill and Caspary correspondence this month appears to be a veiled admission by EPA officials that the amount of radioactive contamination the state would allow would not be considered safe under federal policy.
“What the agency doesn’t say speaks volumes — they know these numbers are outrageous,” Hirsch said. “The fact that they capitulate without even discussing them is further evidence of their dirty hands.”
The source who asked not to be named said it was doubtful the exclusion of specific numbers in the correspondence would actually stop parties responsible for radioactive contamination from trying to cite the Florida case as a justification for not cleaning up to normal EPA standards, however.
“I would make that argument if I was on that side,” said the source. “You’d be stupid not to.”
Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests
“Don’t let them get a foothold. They take over the politics. They take over the land. They take over the courts. They take over the environment. They’re like a cancer and can’t be stopped.”
Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida
By Rose Ellen O’Connor, on November 23rd, 2011
Virginia is the home of many historic Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields. But today, conflicts are being fought in a different forum. The question of whether to lift Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining is shaping up to be one of the biggest battles in the General Assembly next year.
Virginia Uranium, Inc. wants to mine a 119-pound uranium ore deposit called Coles Hill. It is in Pittsylvania County in south central Virginia, often referred to as Southside. The company, flush with Canadian investments, has hired 15 lobbyists to push their cause in Richmond. It has also contributed cash to the campaigns of more than 70 legislators and taken lawmakers on all-expense-paid trips to see mining areas in France and Canada.
Environmental groups, who have seven lobbyists, are also gearing up for the fight and do not plan to be outgunned. Some are predicting the vote will be close. At the center of the debate is the question of whether modern technology and stricter regulations can avoid the catastrophes of uranium mining’s past.
Virginia Uranium would operate a mine and milling plant on the Coles Hill site. After uranium is mined, the ore is taken to a mill where the stone is crushed to free up the uranium oxide or “yellow cake.” The waste materials, radioactive sand-like “tailings,” are mixed with water and chemicals, creating toxic slurry.
Tailings remain radioactive for thousands of years and have poisoned livestock, contaminated waterways and destroyed farms and pastures. Chemicals in the tailings have been linked to cancer. Virginia Uranium says it plans to place some of the tailings in underground holding compartments and some back in the mine.
Opponents say they fear the tailings will leach into groundwater or run off into surface rivers and streams. Virginia’s hurricanes and heavy storms increase the risk of contamination, they say.
Company project director Patrick Wales said during a question and answer session at a Richmond mining forum this month that the waste holding cells would be state-of-the-art, lined with rock, clay and tough synthetic strong enough to prevent leaching. Wales offered the assurance that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be involved and would monitor tailings management “in perpetuity.”
Olga Kolutoshkina, a legislative adviser to the Roanoke River Basin Association, says she is worried rather than reassured by Wales’ comments.
“I’m concerned about the cost to the taxpayers and communities of monitoring and containing these wastes essentially forever,” Kolutoshkina says. “We’re talking about thousands of years. We have a short and dirty history with uranium and it’s filled with disasters. It spans 40 or 50 years and there’s nothing we can be proud of.”
Wales also said that modern engineering permits the company to build mining and milling facilities to precise specifications. The project will be built to withstand more than a 5.8 earthquake – which shook Virginia last summer — and more than the state’s biggest storm on record.
“If it’s 27 inches (the project will withstand) 28 inches,” Wales said. “The very idea that these aren’t being included in our plans is a misnomer.”
In August 1969, Hurricane Camille dumped more than 28 inches of rain on central Virginia in eight hours. It left 150 people dead, uprooted whole stands of trees and swept away more than 100 bridges. It changed forever the way residents thought of hurricanes, according to one news account.
“I think it’s commendable that they acknowledge that the standards should be based on worst-case scenarios,” says Chris Miller, executive director of the Piedmont Environmental Council, adding that the company’s position is a switch from the past. But Miller says he is not convinced any design can withstand the challenges in Virginia.
“In theory, I’m sure there’s an engineering solution. What we worry about is that engineered facilities for solid waste facilities and toxic waste facilities have failed with far less environmental and geologic stresses than found in Virginia. So you’re putting a lot of faith in an engineering design that may not be warranted.”
“Talk is cheap,” says Kolutoshkina. “Where are the detailed plans of the system they’re going to build? We want to see technical documents. The only documents this company has produced are press releases. The company will always do what is minimally required and the most profitable.”
The Coles Hill site borders the Bannister River and is drained by the Whitehorn and Mill Creeks, which feed into the Roanoke River. The Roanoke supplies drinking water to 1.2 million people in Virginia and North Carolina.
American Rivers, an environmental group headquartered in Washington, named the Roanoke the third most endangered river in America last spring because of the proposed uranium mine. The group noted that the Roanoke sustains $300 million in agriculture annually and attracts thousands of tourists a year for fishing, boating, bird-watching and other outdoor activities.
In August, the Board of Supervisors for Orange County passed a resolution urging the General Assembly not to authorize the Coles Hill project until it can be proved that it will not endanger the water supply. The Halifax County Board of Supervisors and the town councils of Halifax and South Boston followed suit in October.
Virginia Beach is one of three eastern Virginia cities that pump their drinking water via pipeline from Lake Gaston, downstream of the Coles Hill deposit. An engineering study done for the city in February concludes that toxic radioactive waste could contaminate Lake Gaston in a catastrophic rain storm. The study says that the Kerr Reservoir upstream from the lake would trap about 90 percent of the toxic waste but that the rest would flow into Lake Gaston. Flushing out the radioactive contaminants would take from two months to two years depending on the weather, the study says.
Michael Baker Corp., author of the study, looked at powerful hurricanes that struck in Nelson County in 1969 and Madison County in 1995, causing more than 25 inches of rainfall, to assess the potential damage of a catastrophic storm near the uranium mines. Pittsylvania County has never had such large rainfalls.
Virginia Uranium officials reacted far differently to the threat of heavy rain than Wales did in Richmond, when he promised reporters the company would design its facilities to withstand huge rainfalls.
Wales dismissed the Virginia Beach report as an “expensive exercise in fantasy,” saying many of the reports’ assumptions were wrong. At a hearing before the Virginia Beach City Council Aug. 24, Alan Kuhn, a Virginia Uranium consultant said the chances of a massive flood like that in the study was one in 10 million, which he said amounted to “zero.”
Some of the council members, who felt a rare 5.8 earthquake shake through the state a few hours earlier and were awaiting a hurricane that weekend, were not won over by the assurances, according to a report in The Virginian-Pilot.
“The gulf oil spill and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan have shown you can’t always predict it based on history,” Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson said.
Dr. Thomas Burbey, a geology professor with Virginia Polytechnic and State University in Blacksburg, Va., conducted a study of a small portion of the land atop the deposits. He says he found very little groundwater because there are very few fractures in the rocks. Less water at the site would reduce the risk of mining, he says.
“I think the water flows would be easily manageable,” Burbey says. “It would probably reduce the risks of groundwater contamination.”
But the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said in a report that the Coles Hill site is surrounded by flood zones, citing a map from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The map shows several creeks next to the site, which are marked as flood zones. Kuhn said in a letter to a local paper that the environmental group misread the map.
Pittsylvania County has been hit by storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and an earthquake, according to weather records. It has also been subject to intense flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency designated Pittsylvania County a disaster area when Hurricane Fran hit in September 1996, according to agency records.
The area around the Coles Hill site also has a high water table – groundwater used for drinking is only 36 feet below the surface. Environmentalists say that makes it easier for radioactive waste to leech into the water supply.
A preliminary economic report for the company recommends that radioactive slurry be blended with cement to stiffen it. The 2010 report by Lyntek, Inc., a mining engineering firm in Lakewood, Colo. recommends that 10 tons of the waste be buried back in the mine. The other 19 tons of radioactive waste would be stored in eight lined containment cells five feet under the ground and covered with top soil and vegetation. Each holding compartment would encompass as much as 40 acres, according to the Lyntek Study.
If Virginia Uranium mines the full 119 pounds of uranium ore, as it says it will, rather than the 63 pounds projected in the Lyntek report, the company would have many more tons of toxic waste to handle. Walt Coles Sr. says he believes the company can reduce the waste, noting that the Lyntek report is a preliminary study.
“We’re not going to know that until the final mill design takes place,” Coles says. “There’s all sorts of new technology being studied.”
Environmentalists say Virginia Uranium will have trouble placing the storage cells below ground because the high water table leaves very little earth above the groundwater. And even if they could, they say, it would not be a solution.
“They’re leaving behind tons and tons of waste that is toxic and radioactive,” Nathan Lott, executive director of Virginia Conservation Network, says. “We have no confidence that Virginia or anyone else has the ability to keep this contamination contained for thousands of years. We’re worried about a toxic legacy that will put peoples’ lives and livelihoods at risk.”
Coles dismisses concerns that Virginia’s wet climate increases the risks of waste leeching into groundwater or toxic runoff leaking into creeks and streams.
“That’s absolutely absurd and a lot of people that are anti-mining make that statement, but the fact is mining has taken place all over the world in wet climates just like in Southside,” Coles says. “In fact, they argue that it’s never been mined east of the Mississippi. In fact, mining for uranium has taken place in Louisiana and Florida. You know that’s a wet two states subject to hurricanes. In fact, Katrina went right over the mine sights.”
Neither Florida nor Louisiana ever had uranium mining, according to the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute. In Florida, corporations mine and mill phosphate, a key ingredient in fertilizer and pesticide, and in Louisiana, companies mill phosphate. Companies in both states extracted uranium from phosphate until the mid-1990s. Hurricane Gloria struck both states but did not pass over the mining areas or milling plants in either state, according to environmentalists there. And wet climates in both Louisiana and Florida have exacerbated the environmental damage done by the phosphate industry, interviews, state records and news accounts indicate.
Neither state has an environmental record that Virginia would likely want to emulate. Phosphate mining and milling have caused huge environmental problems in Florida and Louisiana, according to records at the Environmental Protection Agency, press accounts and interviews with state officials and environmentalists.
In 1987, Freeport McMoran, Inc., a phosphate fertilizer company, said it was producing so much waste that the soil underneath its waste piles, known as gypsum stacks, was becoming unstable. It asked the state of Louisiana to let it dump 12.5 million tons a year of slightly radioactive toxic phosphoric acid into the Mississippi River.
New Orleans, one of several cities that get their drinking water from the river, led the fight against the proposal. Thousands of angry protestors said the gypsum would poison their water and increase the risk of cancer, already high in the area. State environmental officials turned the company down, citing the risk of tainted drinking water and potential harm to fish and wildlife.
Fertilizer plants, still looking for ways to get rid of their waste, were allowed to use their gypsum stacks to fill in wetlands being primed for a roadway. “Everything died,” Wilma Subra, a chemist who consults for Louisiana Environmental Action Network, says.
In the late 1980s, Gov. Buddy Roemer required the companies to cover the gypsum stacks with soil and grass because when rainwater came, the gypsum leached into groundwater and flowed into wetlands and waterways, Subra also says.
With its toxic stew of oil and gas, chemical plants and gypsum stacks, Louisiana’s environment has ranked high for poison, EPA records show. In 1988, the federal agency started requiring companies to report the toxic chemicals they emit into the air, water and land in each state. Louisiana came in first place with 985 million pounds of pollution, according to EPA records. It remained among the top three for 10 years. It dropped to ninth place in 1998 after the phosphate industry successfully sued to have phosphoric acid, a byproduct of phosphate, removed from the list of toxic chemicals that had to be reported.
In central Florida, phosphate mining has long been raising health and environmental alarms. A 1985 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that acute leukemia was twice the normal rate in 27 counties with or near phosphate mining and milling. The report said further study was needed.
Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties spent $12 million in court battles between 2001 and 2007 to try to stop expansions of the mining industry that would endanger the health of land and water, Charlotte County Assistant Attorney Martha Burton says. They were fighting their own state Department of Environmental Protection, which, county officials claim, allowed mining companies to destroy wetlands and streams.
Department of Environmental Protection officials, who argued for the mining companies in court, said they were trying to be fair and make decisions based on science. Among the permits the counties were fighting was a proposed 2,067-acre mine near the town of Ona, owned by the country’s largest phosphate producer, Mosaic Co., based in Plymouth, Minn.
The counties presented written expert testimony that phosphate mining ruined soil, reduced fish species, harmed wildlife and destroyed the quality of untold streams and waterways. A certified senior ecologist estimated that cleaning up after the Ona mine and restoring wetlands, woodlands and habitat would cost $643 million for which Mosaic was not prepared.
The counties are still fighting the proposed Ona mine. Last April, they asked the federal Army Corp of Engineers to step in and do an environmental impact study of Central Florida.
In September 2004, Hurricane Frances whipped up waves in a waste water holding pond that stood atop a 180-foot-high gypsum stack. The dike broke, spilling 65 million pounds into a creek and bay that drain into the Tampa Bay. Officials said many crabs, shrimp and fish were destroyed. Phosphate waste is highly acidic and, as one state environmental official described it to a local newspaper, similar to Draino.
In 1995, a 15-story-deep sinkhole opened up in an 80-million-ton gypsum stack, dumping at least 4 million cubic feet of toxic waste into the Floridan aquifer. It supplies 90 percent of the state’s drinking water.
U.S. News and World Report, which wrote about Florida’s phosphate problems in the mid-1990s, noted the industry’s political clout. Between 1971 and 1995, mining firms paid $1 billion in state severance tax on the phosphate they retrieved and provided 8,000 jobs. They also contributed campaign money to state and local officials. Even environmental groups were not particularly vocal, having received $109,000 in 1994.
“I would say to the people of Virginia: Be very afraid. I can’t imagine how uranium mining would turn out well. All the waterways around here are polluted,” Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, says of central Florida.
“Don’t let them get a foothold. They take over the politics. They take over the land. They take over the courts. They take over the environment. They’re like a cancer and can’t be stopped.”
Florida issues new water pollution standards
By Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Nov 02, 2011 05:07 PM
Amid a long-running political fight over new water pollution standards being imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida officials Wednesday unveiled their own new standards for limiting the most common form of pollution in the state’s rivers, streams and estuaries.
The new standards for limiting nutrient pollution —- the kind that often causes toxic algae blooms —- have already drawn support from the Florida Pulp and Paper Association, Associated Industries of Florida and phosphate mining giant Mosaic, among other groups.
Also lined up in support: the EPA. Based on a preliminary review, the federal agency “would be able to approve the draft rule” as complying with the Clean Water Act, wrote Nancy K. Stoner of the EPA’s regional office in Atlanta.
However, while state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard called the new standards “the most comprehensive nutrient pollution limitations in the nation,” some environmental groups say what DEP has come up with is worse than the rule already on the books.
“The toxic slime outbreaks in Florida will continue and get worse,” predicted David Guest of Earthjustice, one of the groups that previously sued the EPA for failing to protect Florida’s waterways from nutrient pollution. The new state rule, he said, was “negotiated with the polluting industries, and it reflects that.”
Guest contended the EPA is going along with the DEP’s rule to dissipate the political heat that ensued when the federal agency agreed to impose new pollution rules on Florida. The EPA’s rules have drawn opposition from Gov. Rick Scott, state business leaders and some members of Florida’s congressional delegation.
“They’re just lying down and letting the DEP do whatever they want to do,” said Linda Young of the Clean Water Network. The problem with the new rules, she said, is that they don’t apply to what comes out of the end of a drain pipe. That makes it harder to stop pollution at the source, she said.
Nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen flow into waterways from fertilized lawns, golf courses, leaking septic tanks and malfunctioning sewer plants. In the past 30 years, nutrient pollution has become the most common water pollution problem in Florida —- but the state’s rules for how much nitrogen and phosphorous are allowed in waterways were only vague guidelines.
The EPA told all states in 1998 to set strict limits on nutrient pollution, and warned it would do it for them if no action was taken by 2004. DEP officials started working on new standards in 2001, but 2004 passed without any change.
In 2008, Earthjustice and a coalition of other environmental groups sued the EPA to force it to take action in Florida. A year later, the agency settled the suit by agreeing to impose nutrient pollution standards — and the complaints began boiling up from Florida industry leaders about costly, unnecessary federal regulations hurting the economy.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, on behalf of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Hasner, sued to block implementation of the rules, and on Wednesday she filed a motion accusing the EPA of exaggerating the threat from nutrient pollution.
EPA officials have said all along that they would drop their pollution limits if the state would come up with some new standards. In the EPA’s letter Wednesday, agency officials said that if the state’s Environmental Review Commission and the Legislature ratify the new state standards, and the EPA gives its formal approval of the final version, the agency would then withdraw its controversial pollution standards.
Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]
[Last modified: Nov 02, 2011 05:08 PM]
The Inside Story –
EPA Resists Call To Halt Radiation Surveys
Posted: September 9, 2011
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is resisting GOP demands that the agency commit to halt aerial surveys that could inform a potentially precedent-setting cleanup of an area in central Florida where the agency fears that tens of thousands of people living on former phosphate mines are being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
An agency spokeswoman says that during a Sept. 7 meeting, Jackson told GOP critics that the agency has “no current plans” to conduct such surveys, but stopped short of agreeing to the lawmakers’ call to permanently halt the flyovers.
At issue are approximately 10 square miles of contaminated land near Lakeland, FL, where EPA has taken no cleanup action despite having had the concerns since the late 1970s. To address the concerns, which were first made public by an award-winning series of Inside EPA articles in 2010, the agency has so far conducted only one preliminary aerial radiation survey near the area in question.
But EPA’s survey has prompted opposition from GOP lawmakers representing the area, including Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), who is planning to push an amendment to EPA’s upcoming appropriations bill blocking further EPA survey work. Ross, together with other GOP lawmakers, sent a letter to Jackson earlier this year that criticized the agency for having recently conducted the preliminary survey and demanded that the agency conduct no further flyovers, saying they could hurt Florida’s economy. The lawmakers also called EPA’s long-held Superfund cleanup standards “arbitrary.”
In a Sept. 7 press release, Ross claimed that he had met with Jackson in his Washington, DC office and had won a commitment from the Administrator “to conduct no future radiation flyovers.” In the press release, Ross called the alleged commitment from Jackson “a giant step in the right direction,” because further surveys would “impact every Floridian in thousands of dollars a year in new costs and potentially devastating effects on an already depressed housing market.”
During the meeting with Jackson, Ross said he “made clear that decades of study, from industry to University, show that radiation levels at mining sites in central Florida contain less radiation than living in the suburbs of Denver, and that any radiation monitoring must be done with agreed upon benchmarks based on accepted scientific standards.”
But Ross’s press release “is misleading,” an agency spokeswoman says in a statement to Inside EPA. “Administrator Jackson did not commit to no flyovers – she simply stated at this time there are no plans to do any,” the EPA spokeswoman says.
The EPA spokeswoman also defended the use of aerial surveys, calling them “a common sense, low-cost way of detecting whether there is radiation in the soil, radiation that could harm people in their communities.” The spokeswoman says that “EPA undertakes a strict scientific and public process to determine what levels of radiation are unsafe” and that the agency “has a duty to gather information to ensure public health and the environment are protected.”
EPA is “committed to continuing to work with States to listen and address any issues of concerns,” the spokeswoman says.
Reaching a consensus with state officials regarding the Florida phosphate issue could prove difficult, however. The desire of EPA officials to use their Superfund standards as the basis for any cleanups in the area has long been a source of contention between EPA, Florida and phosphate mining industry officials, and the disagreement has prompted concerns amongst environmentalists who fear the precedent that could be set if EPA abandons its long-held standards.
In addition, Ross is preparing to insert his amendment blocking any additional survey work in the fiscal year 2012 budget bill when it is recalled to the House floor. The amendment would block surveys “of any facility in the State of Florida in Polk county or Hillsborough county that is listed in” EPA’s Superfund database, known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS).
But Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), who has raised concerns about the Florida phosphate issue in the past, may oppose the amendment. A Capitol Hill source said recently that Markey continues to track the issue and may speak in opposition to the Ross amendment when it comes up on the House floor.
In addition, Florida environmentalists are urging Jackson to reject the demands of Ross and the other Florida Republicans, which include Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Richard Nugent and Thomas Rooney. In a July 20 letter, the activists say they “strongly support a fully scientific review of the impacts of phosphate mining, including the aerial radiation surveys which are long overdue.”
A Ross spokesman could not be reached for comment.
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