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Prospects of Florida Roads Utilizing Radioactive Waste Move Forward with Proposed Bill

Prospects of Florida Roads Utilizing Radioactive Waste Move Forward with Proposed Bill
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A bill put forward by Florida legislators and now awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval has caught the attention of media outlets as it suggests using radioactive waste for  Florida roads construction. According to reports from various media sources, including Reuters and The Guardian, HB 1191 would require the Florida Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the feasibility of using phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct from fertilizer production, as a paving material. This controversial proposal has sparked debates and concerns about the potential environmental and health risks associated with such a practice.

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The bill currently facing opposition from conservation groups in Florida has set a deadline for the state’s transportation department to evaluate the utilization of phosphogypsum, a waste product from fertilizer production, as a potential road construction material. The bill stipulates that a recommendation on the use of phosphogypsum, which is abundant due to Florida’s fertilizer production industry, must be made by April 1, 2024. Phosphogypsum contains phosphorus, a vital element in fertilizers obtained through the dissolution of phosphate rock in sulfuric acid to produce phosphoric acid. If approved, phosphogypsum could be incorporated into Florida roads construction alongside traditional aggregates like crushed stone, gravel, and sand.

According to reports, the conventional method employed in fertilizer production since the mid-19th century is known to be highly inefficient. For every metric ton of phosphoric acid manufactured, over five metric tons of phosphogypsum waste are generated. Typically, this phosphogypsum waste is accumulated in enormous piles known as “gypstacks,” which can reach towering heights of up to 200 feet and cover expansive areas of around 800 acres. These gypstacks have been associated with various issues, including the formation of sinkholes. Consequently, legislators are motivated to explore viable applications for this abundant waste material.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), phosphogypsum contains notable quantities of uranium and other radioactive elements that are formed through the natural decay of uranium. This decay process leads to the creation of radium-226, which further decomposes into radon, a cancer-causing radioactive gas. While these elements are already present in the original phosphate rock, the process of fertilizer production concentrates them, resulting in phosphogypsum being more radioactive than the initial rock, as confirmed by the EPA.