Legislation is on the way to the Senate floor that could open up use of phosphogypsum for use in constructing state roads.
The goal is to take some of the edge off of the state’s road construction supply challenges.
“This is a study that will petition the (Environmental Protection Agency), and if the EPA acts, this legislation will allow Florida to potentially eliminate the massive gypstacks as the only option for managing phosphogypsum,” Panama City Republican Sen. Jay Trumbull said to the Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy.
The bill (SB 1258) sets out to accomplish several things, but primarily, it directs the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to look into the suitability of using phosphogypsum in road base, including consideration of existing and ongoing studies.
“Upon the FDOT’s determination of suitability, the bill authorizes the use of phosphogypsum from phosphate production as a construction aggregate material in accordance with the conditions of the EPA approval for such use,” according to the Senate staff analysis.
“Again, until such time as the EPA approves such use, the FDOT would be prohibited from any use of phosphogypsum as a road construction aggregate material. Such use could only occur if the EPA issues an approval, and only under the conditions imposed by the EPA.”
The EPA approved road construction use under the Donald Trump administration, then with the change of Presidents came a change in policy.
“Upon further review, EPA has determined that the approval was premature and should be withdrawn because the request did not contain all of the required information,” the EPA announced in 2021. “With this action, phosphogypsum remains prohibited from use in road construction projects.”
For every ton of phosphorus produced, the process also turns out five tons of phosphogypsum. There are around 1 billion tons of phosphogypsum divided among 24 stacks in Florida, with 30 million new tons created annually.
The bill’s language states the legislation won’t affect Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permitting of gypstack systems pursuant to existing Florida law.
The EPA banned use of phosphogypsum in 1989, but the rule opened for limited agricultural use a few years later.
Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman proposed an amendment, which failed, requiring DOT to work with DEP in evaluating the environmental impact of phosphogypsum as a construction aggregate.
“I think it is important that we find innovative ways to repurpose this byproduct, but it’s critical that we do it in a safe, environmentally friendly way,” Berman said. “We do need to proceed with caution, because we are dealing with a byproduct that could release cancer-causing radon gas.”
Trumbull said the amendment wasn’t necessary, since the EPA would do that legwork should the agency change its position again on phosphogypsum reuse in roads.