Environmental Organizations Plan to Sue EPA for Waste Management Failure

Riverview phosphogypsum waste stack in Florida

(Credit: Center for Biological Diversity)

by | Feb 19, 2024

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The Center for Biological Diversity, along with 10 other advocacy groups, has sent a Notice of Intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for violating requirements to take action on addressing phosphogypsum waste and process wastewater caused by agricultural fertilizers.

The Notice of Intent (NOI) claims that the EPA has delayed response to a petition filed in 2021 which aims to list phosphogypsum waste as a hazardous waste. The petition calls for the EPA to regulate safe treatment, storage, and disposal of the waste product and to designate it as a high-priority substance for risk evaluation. It also asks to require manufacturers to conduct testing on phosphogypsum waste and process wastewater.

Phosphogypsum, caused during the process of making phosphoric acid for fertilizer, is known as a radioactive waste product. It reportedly contains arsenic, lead, mercury, and other harmful materials, and it is also acidic and corrosive — overall, the slow response to the petition is a threat to human and environmental health, according to the organizations planning to take legal action.

The Center for Biological Diversity points out that most phosphogypsum waste stacks, which contain high concentrations of the material, are particularly prevalent in low-income communities across the United States. More than 1 billion stacks of phosphogypsum, some hundreds of feet tall and hundreds of acres wide, are reportedly stored in 25 stacks in the state of Florida alone.

NOI Points to Growing Phosphogypsum Waste Hazards

Within the NOI, the organizations represented provide a number of reasons that the EPA should urgently address phosphogypsum waste caused by the fertilizer industry. The industry reportedly generates about 46 million tons of this harmful waste product each year, and the rate of such waste generation is only increasing.

Current disposal methods, mostly comprised of the open-air, uncovered phosphogypsum stacks, may reportedly cause radon emissions, posing an increased risk for cancer for those living nearby. Additional human health risks include neurological, immunological, and reproductive damage from lead exposure, lung damage from cadmium exposure, and many more additional health hazards.

Alternative disposal methods have been attempted by fertilizer companies, including disposal into roadways and aquifers, but the NOI claims these remain dangerous methods and should not be considered potential solutions.

“While EPA refuses to take action, the phosphogypsum and process wastewater burden continues to grow at an unmanageable rate,” says the NOI. “EPA’s continued delay prejudices the interests of Organizations’ members in the health of their communities located near phosphogypsum stacks.”

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