Gov. Ron DeSantis could sign bill allowing study on use of radioactive waste in road construction

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro
Published: Updated:

To sign or not to sign?

That’s the decision facing Gov. Ron DeSantis regarding a bill that could pave the way for using a radioactive waste product to pave Florida roads.

Those opposed call it an environmental disaster and a public health risk, while others consider it safe and cost-effective.

The bill, passed by Florida lawmakers, could eventually lead to the use of phosphogypsum, or PG, in road construction.

Mosaic, a Tampa-based mining and fertilizer company, owns the largest gyp stack in Florida.

“When we process phosphate fertilizer, we create a byproduct called phosphogypsum. And due to EPA regulations, we stack this phosphogypsum in what’s called gyp stacks,” said Sarah Fedorchuk, Mosaic’s vice president of government and public affairs for North America.

They asked lawmakers last year to let firms sell the waste to the state for road construction companies.

Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency bans the use of PG, saying it “poses an unacceptable risk to public health.”

“When you’re talking about putting radioactive material into our roadways, putting construction workers at risk or dealing with this potentially putting our ecosystems at risk, once that radioactive material gets out into the ecosystem, it’s not something that we need to be dealing with,” said Matt DePaolis, environmental policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

DePaolis considers it too big a risk with too little reward.

“Using a substance like this in our roadbeds, where we have this porous limestone bedrock all over this state, water permeates and percolates down through the soil into our aquifers very readily,” he said. “Putting something like this where it has that interaction, potentially, between water sources and into our drinking water into our ecosystem seems too dangerous an issue to be dealing with haphazardly.”

That was also part of the discussion in Tallahassee before the bill passed.

“Florida has frequent rainfall. There’s also concern that the material could wash into your driveway, could filter into the aquifer and expose the general public to carcinogenic. Will that be part of the study to safeguard Floridians,” asked Florida Sen. Geraldine “Geri”Thompson.

The bill’s sponsor, Florida Sen. Jay Trumbulle, said: “Absolutely. I believe it will take into consideration those things.”

Mosaic argues that many countries already use it, but environmentalists argue it doesn’t mean it’s right for us.

“What we found is it is there’s no leaching, it doesn’t present hazard to construction crews or drivers. And really, the level of radioactivity, once it’s used in a road base would be similar to any of the other products that are currently used,” Fedorchuk said. “What we’re asking the state of Florida to do is really to do its own test and study on phosphogypsum.”

If the governor agrees, the Florida Department of Transportation would have until Jan. 1, 2024 to study the material.

DePaolis doesn’t feel that’s enough time to understand the long-term effects.

“When we’re messing around with radon, radioactive materials, heavy metals, and a lot of the things associated with these phosphogypsum stacks, this isn’t something that we can afford to get wrong. And this isn’t something that we want to pass on as a problem to future generations of Floridians,” DePaolis said.

Every Southwest Florida lawmaker voted yes to the bill.

WINK News reached out to each of them. They either didn’t respond or wouldn’t comment.

Even if Florida moves forward with this, the EPA would need to approve using the product in road construction, which again, is currently banned.

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