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DeSantis signs controversial ‘radioactive roads’ bill lobbied by fertilizer giant Mosaic

Mosaic supported the bill — and hosted a $25,000 fundraiser for its sponsor.
 
An aerial view of a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry, where the Fortune 500 company wants to test putting its waste byproduct in roads.
An aerial view of a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry, where the Fortune 500 company wants to test putting its waste byproduct in roads. [ Times (2016) ]
Published June 29, 2023|Updated June 30, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a bill that will allow the Florida Department of Transportation to study the use of phosphogypsum, a mildly radioactive byproduct of the phosphate manufacturing process, in road construction.

The measure — dubbed the “radioactive roads” bill by critics — was lobbied by Tampa-based Fortune 500 fertilizer company Mosaic, which would benefit from selling its byproduct and last month hosted and paid nearly $25,000 for a fundraising event for the state lawmaker who sponsored the controversial bill.

Records reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times show Mosaic is already seeking approval from federal environmental regulators to begin testing phosphogypsum in a roadway at its New Wales facility. Depending on the results of the state’s study and federal approval, the bill could pave the way — literally — for phosphogypsum use in American roads for the first time in years.

Related: Florida lawmaker sponsored ‘radioactive roads’ bill. Mosaic threw him a fundraiser.

Phosphogypsum contains radium-226, which emits radiation during its decay to form radon, a potentially cancer-causing, radioactive gas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this month, Mosaic defended hosting a fundraiser for the political committee of the bill’s sponsor, Plant City Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure. The company said in a statement to the Times on Thursday that it was grateful to see the bill approved by DeSantis.

The Red and Blue Clubhouse at Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green is part of the Mosaic Co.'s $160 million sale of the resort, built on 7,000 acres of former phosphate mining land in 2012.
The Red and Blue Clubhouse at Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green is part of the Mosaic Co.'s $160 million sale of the resort, built on 7,000 acres of former phosphate mining land in 2012. [ Streamsong ]

“We’re thankful the state sees the value in following the science so that we can all learn more about the beneficial reuse of phosphogypsum,” spokesperson Jackie Barron said in an emailed statement. “This allows the state to move forward with fact-finding and research.”

Critics say the bill is less about research, and more about a major industry player cashing in on a waste product that could have human health implications.

Glenn Compton, chairperson of the local environmental advocacy group ManaSota-88, said it could open the door for widespread use of phosphogypsum across the state if the Environmental Protection Agency gives the state a green light.

“It’s unfortunate that our governor, Senate and House support the use of toxic waste material in our roads,” Compton said in an interview Thursday night. “We’re not going to have oversight of this dangerous product, and our hope right now is that the federal government doesn’t approve a project that the state of Florida clearly wants to move forward with.”

Related: Radioactive roads? Tampa fertilizer giant Mosaic wants to start testing it.

Right now, phosphogypsum is stored in about two dozen “stacks” across Florida. Tampa Bay residents are familiar with the environmental risks tied to gypstacks: In 2021, roughly 215 million gallons of tainted water from the Piney Point fertilizer site were sent into Tampa Bay as a precaution due to fears that a leak in a reservoir could trigger a massive flood, endangering homes and businesses.

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“The industry’s idea of getting rid of their toxic waste product is now not to put it in gypstacks,” Compton said. “It’s to put it in front of your driveway.”