Lawmakers propose bill to conduct study on phosphogypsum

Decades ago before there were restrictions on the use of phosphogypsum, Parrish Road, just east of Fort Meade, was built with it.

Since then, phosphogypsum, a slightly radioactive material and by-product of the phosphate industry, has been legally required to be stored and monitored in giant piles called gypstacks.

Republican State Representative Melonie Bell, who lives in the same area of Fort Meade as Parrish Road, uses that street to underscore why she thinks gypsum should be used in future road projects.

"Studies have shown there has not been a high cancer rate," she told FOX 13. "There has been nobody that has turned green from living on this road."

"We are needing infrastructure in the state of Florida terribly bad,"she continued. "Using this phosphogypsum for road base would save taxpayers millions, billions of dollars a year if we could use it."

But Florida, and other states can’t use it.

The EPA has banned its use due to possible detrimental health effects.

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The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are concerned about it being hazardous, possibly even cancer causing.

"Radioactivity is decidedly associated with cancer," said David Cullen, a representative of the Sierra Club, who is lobbying against Bell’s proposed legislation.

"The idea of distributing the contents of a gypstack, of which there is roughly a billion tons as I understand it around the State of Florida in 25 piles that are 500 feet high and acres in extent, doesn’t make any sense."

Bell’s bill would allow the Florida Department of Transportation to conduct further study on gypsum and what it could possibly be used for.

Other countries are already treating and re-purposing it.

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"The rest of the civilized world has found uses (for it)" said Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron. "There are probably 20 different countries doing things with gypsum."

Barron says overseas it is being used to construct roads and seawalls, even as a soil additive.

"There’s lots of uses for phosphogypsum," Barron said, "We’re just not there yet, but we should be."

Bell’s bill is still in committee.

The idea is nothing new. It has been discussed for years, but has not taken off.

 Bell says if her legislation eventually passes, it will put Florida in a better position to move forward quickly if the EPA ever changes its mind on phosphogypsum.