Florida Governor Ron DeSantis endorsed a controversial law, permitting the usage of a radioactive waste product, phosphogypsum, in road construction.
Details of the new law: The recently signed legislation facilitates the use of phosphogypsum as a pavement aggregate, along with crushed stone, gravel, sand, and other materials.
* This law obliges the Florida Transportation Department to conduct projects to assess the practicality of phosphogypsum in road construction.
* Florida’s transportation agency now has until April 1, 2024, to complete a study and make a recommendation.
Controversy and concerns: Proponents argue phosphogypsum can be used safely, but opponents condemn its deployment, warning of environmental and health hazards.
* Conservation groups called for a veto of the bill, citing potential harm to water quality and increased cancer risks for road construction crews.
* The fertilizer industry maintains that phosphogypsum usage in road construction will not generate radioactive doses exceeding EPA’s acceptable risks.
* However, an analysis by Chinese researchers suggested further studies are needed to assess the long-term effects on soil and water resources.
Federal oversight: While Florida’s law paves the way for using phosphogypsum, the ultimate decision rests with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
* The EPA, which regulates the use of phosphogypsum, has maintained a nearly continuous prohibition on its use in road construction for over 30 years.
* Florida will have to seek EPA approval for its plan, pending federal review and an open public comment period.
Phosphogypsum overview: It’s a radioactive waste material left over from the production of phosphoric acid, used in fertilizers.
* For every ton of phosphoric acid produced, over 5 tons of phosphogypsum waste is generated.
* The waste contains significant quantities of uranium and its decay products like radium-226, according to the EPA.
* Florida, accounting for about 80% of current capacity, is the world’s largest phosphate producing area, which consequently results in substantial phosphogypsum waste.
* This waste is stored in massive sites spanning up to 800 acres, often linked to serious water pollution due to sinkholes and breaches.
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