What is phosphate mined in Florida used for?
Phosphate is found in a variety of household items that we use every day, from toothpaste to soaps and sodas. But the primary use of phosphate from Florida is to help farmers grow the food we all need.
Florida phosphate helps farmers across America and around the world produce higher yields on the land that they farm. These higher yields increase food production worldwide, helping to eliminate hunger while reducing the farming footprint required to meet food demand.
Mining and Land Reclamation
Doesn’t mining harm the land?
Since the 1970s, government regulations have required that every acre of land that the phosphate industry mines must be reclaimed back to nature, agriculture or other productive uses. In fact, in order to get a mining permit today, phosphate companies must demonstrate that post-mining reclamation will result in a net ecological benefit compared with the land before mining. From a standpoint of ecological function, we have to put it back better than how we found it.
How is it possible for reclaimed land to be of higher ecological value than the land before it was mined?
Most of the land that we mine has already been impacted by human activity. This activity – usually decades before mining – had the effect of cutting off or isolating wetlands, streams and wildlife habitat. Reclamation gives us the opportunity to create large-scale wildlife habitat and corridors while reconnecting streams and wetlands as they existed before the original impacts to the land.
What is phosphogypsum?
Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of the fertilizer manufacturing process. It is produced when the phosphate rock we mine is combined with sulfuric acid to form phosphoric acid and phosphogypsum. The phosphogypsum must be filtered and removed so the remaining phosphoric acid can be used to make fertilizer. The phosophogypsum is subsequently deposited on a gypstack under strict standards established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Instead of disposing of phosphogypsum in stacks, can’t the material be used for other purposes?
In 1989, EPA regulations required U.S. phosphate companies to store phosphogypsum in stacks because of slightly elevated radiation levels in the phosphogypsum. This was modified in 1992 to allow use of phosphogypsum produced in north Florida as a soil amendment.
Trade organizations like the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) monitor where and how phosphogypsum is being used internationally.
Will there be new phosphogypsum stacks in counties where Mosaic is seeking new mining permits?
No. Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of the fertilizer manufacturing process, which is separate from mining.
Learn more about phosphogypsum from the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR) and the IFA.
Radiation and Radon
Are radiation levels higher on lands that have been mined?
Radiation is not created by phosphate mining. Naturally occurring radiation is found in various concentration levels in virtually all soils as well as minerals.
Any time land is disturbed for any purpose, radiation present in the soils may be redistributed and sometimes can be found closer to the surface. The level of radiation in post-mined lands in Florida is still lower than what is observed in some other parts of Florida and throughout much of the United States. Naturally occurring radiation can be found just about everywhere and in everything. All land emits radiation because of the minerals, like naturally occurring uranium present in the soils.
The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) has monitored radiation levels on pre- and post-mined lands for nearly 30 years. Their monitoring results indicate radiation levels on post-mined lands are within naturally occurring variations in soils found in Florida.
EPA has found that Floridians are exposed to lower levels of natural background radiation than most Americans and that exposure to man-made radiation sources exceeds the levels from natural sources. Man-made sources include cell phones, cell phone towers, electrical power lines, microwave ovens, and medical tests (X-Rays, and CAT scans) among others.
What is radon and is it caused by mining?
Radon gas occurs as radiation decays. In areas of the country that have elevated levels of naturally-occurring radiation from the minerals in the soil, it is not uncommon for radon gas to be present in homes and other buildings. If a radon test of a home shows levels of radon above the EPA action level, the radon can be easily and inexpensively mitigated during or after construction.
Most homes on previously-mined lands in Florida will be below the EPA action level for radon in air, but a higher percentage may be above the action level when compared to unmined land over phosphate deposits. Radon concentration in a home largely depends on construction practices, and radon is easily and inexpensively mitigated during or after construction.
Have there been studies to assess radiation and other potential impacts from phosphate mining in communities where Mosaic operates?
Yes. The FDOH has monitored radiation levels on pre- and post-mined lands for 30 years. Their monitoring results indicate levels on post-mined lands are within naturally occurring radiation levels in soils.
Since the late 1970s, FIPR has also extensively studied and conducted research concerning radiation, waste disposal, air and water emissions associated with phosphate operations.
Most recently, there have been two independent studies by the FDOH and Hillsborough County Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) on radon emissions that may be associated with the Riverview facility’s phosophogypsum stacks (2010 and 2012-2014). Based on those studies, no elevated radon levels were observed, and FDOH concluded that the monitoring results “are generally low compared to background levels in most of the country.”
Does dust at the mining sites contain radioactivity?
Dust is a reflection of the materials from which it originates. This is true for dust from our mining operations which, like the phosphate rock we mine, may contain low levels of radiation. The dust generated during the removal of rock and soil above the phosphate deposits – probably the dustiest part of mining – would be comparable to the dust generated in agricultural tilling or digging in your yard.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) found while preparing the 2014 Environmental Impact Statement for phosphate mining in Central Florida that dust at mining sites remains onsite due to the size of dust particles and wind speeds routinely experienced.
What does Mosaic do to conserve water?
Groundwater withdrawal limits are designed to allow Mosaic’s facilities to operate and continue to produce the fertilizer needed by farmers. In 2012, we worked with water management regulators to design an Integrated Water Use Permit (IWUP), which will reduce Mosaic’s daily permitted groundwater usage by an additional 30 percent over the next 20 years. The IWUP, which included a comprehensive review of Mosaic’s water management practices, was the result of nearly five years of negotiation with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).
Mosaic previously held seven separate water use permits to run its phosphate mining and fertilizer manufacturing operations in central Florida. By using an “integrated” approach to combine these permits, Mosaic voluntarily reduced its daily permitted groundwater usage by nearly 30 million gallons per day (MGD), a dramatic reduction of 30 percent. Today, our groundwater use constitutes approximately 2 percent of total groundwater use in the SWFWMD.
Mosaic has developed a plan to reduce freshwater usage by 20 percent per tonne of product by 2025. We’ve identified alternate water supplies like reclaimed water to help us reach our goal. As an example, Mosaic currently uses 5 million gallons per day (MGD) of reclaimed water in our operations in lieu of groundwater.
Will new mining operations impact groundwater use in the region?
No. According to the most recent SWFWMD report, phosphate mining accounts for approximately 2 percent of the total water usage in the District. The phosphate industry Area-wide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS), an exhaustive study of phosphate mining practices, conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and finalized in April 2013, reviewed phosphate water use practices and included the following comments in their final report: “By implementing water conservation practices, including greater reliance on capturing and recycling onsite surface waters for use in the mining and beneficiation activities, groundwater use has been greatly reduced (BBS&J, 2007).” Water conservation was also addressed in Chapter 4 of the AEIS.
Is phosphate mining the largest user of groundwater in central Florida?
No. The total water use in the South West Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) in 2011 was 1,022 MGD. Of that, approximately 2 percent was used for mining operations. This includes water use for phosphate, peat, limestone, sand, shell and gravel mines. Mosaic’s share of the mining and dewatering category is less than 2 percent of the total water use in the region; a relatively small amount considering Mosaic’s water use permits cover a large area in multiple counties as well as several mines and manufacturing facilities.
Does Mosaic use groundwater before discharging it into the environment?
Responsible stewardship of water resources is a cornerstone of Mosaic’s phosphate operations. Like most other industries, we use water as a part of our operations.
Mosaic uses state-of-the-art water treatment methods to meet federal and state standards before releasing water into local waterways through permitted outfalls. The standards are met by blending waters collected from stormwater runoff, non-process water or other sources, like groundwater. We calculate 10 percent of Mosaic’s total permitted groundwater use is currently used for blending to meet stringent water quality standards.
Learn more about Mosaic’s water stewardship.
Under periods of intense rainfall or storms, does the process water from phosphogypsum stacks overflow and impact local waterways?
Managing water in our phosphogypsum stacks is an important part of Mosaic’s manufacturing operations. In 2004, our Riverview gypstack experienced a breach. The incident occurred in a year when an unprecedented four hurricanes struck Florida, leaving the region saturated as a result of extraordinarily high natural water levels and much higher than average rainfall. The water from the breach entered Archie Creek, and subsequently made its way to a small area along the Hillsborough Bay coastline.
This water, which was diluted quickly because of heavy rainfall, also remained very close to shore due to the tropical weather conditions. As a result, it was determined by highly-qualified third-party experts that any impacts were temporary and extremely localized.
Following the breach, Mosaic invested approximately $30 million in improvements at the Riverview facility, including infrastructure that allows us to store greater volumes of water and better manage water inventories at the facility. Many of these water management practices have been successfully implemented at other gypstacks in the region. In addition, Mosaic has performed mitigation activities at the Giant’s Camp Wetland Restoration and Oyster Reef Project and partnered on numerous restoration projects in Tampa Bay. In fact, Mosaic’s partnership with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and implementation of best management practices at its facilities on the Bay have contributed to seagrass populations meeting and exceeding major recovery goals to levels not seen since 1950 and achieving all water quality targets in Tampa Bay for the third year in a row. Read more about the improved health of Tampa Bay.
Isn’t Mosaic simply discarding dirty water into local waterways from mining and manufacturing operations?
No. Phosphate mining and manufacturing operations in Florida are highly regulated. Mosaic complies with regulations put in place by agencies responsible for protecting people and the environment. Water discharging from mining and manufacturing operations is done through permitted discharge points called outfalls. To safeguard the surrounding waterways these outfalls are monitored for water quality parameters.
Today, we monitor 78 active outfalls for water quality and flow based on stringent permit requirements and we analyze surface water for 246 different chemicals. Our record of compliance with these permit requirements is demonstrated in the public record. We follow rigid quality control procedures to ensure that the water released through the outfalls meets or exceeds state water quality standards.
Does phosphate mining cause the intermediate aquifer to become polluted or negatively impacted?
There are three aquifer levels: Surficial, Intermediate and Floridan. As a result of mining activities, a temporary drop in surficial water levels may occur. Generally, drinking water is sourced from the Intermediate and Floridan aquifers. However, in accordance with our permits and the strict regulations under which we operate, this change in water level is not allowed to affect areas outside Mosaic’s property line during mining operations. This has been confirmed through years of water quality and water level monitoring. Mosaic’s Integrated Water Use Permit (IWUP) is an unprecedented approach to water conservation and regulation, including the use of Environmental Management Plans (EMPs), a predictive strategy for protecting wetlands up to four years in advance of mining operations. The IWUP goes beyond normal permit requirements and implements more stringent monitoring and reporting requirements, including twice the amount of previous data collection.
Is the phosphate industry under-regulated?
Actually, Mosaic is one of the most highly regulated companies in the State of Florida. Florida regulations are among the most rigorous in the nation which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is using Florida’s phosphogypsum regulations as a template for the rest of the nation. Mosaic has developed extensive monitoring systems for air pollution control, surface and groundwater management, employee health and safety, process safety management and waste management/minimization.
Are low income and minority residents the victims of pollution from nearby gypstacks?
As part of the Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS), Environmental Justice concerns as they relate to phosphate mining were specifically addressed. According to the final report, “it is expected that with mitigation, the adverse effects associated with mining would not disproportionately impact the populations of environmental justice concern in the areas leading to a minor degree of adverse effects.”
What is the impact of phosphate mining to the local economies/communities?
Mosaic brings many benefits to the counties where we operate. In addition to the jobs provided by Mosaic, our operations generate additional revenues for county governments as well as a significant boost to local philanthropic organizations.
Most areas we mine were previously zoned for agricultural use and must be rezoned for mining. As a result of this rezoning, property tax revenue from the land increases by millions, providing benefits to local schools and governments. In addition to property tax revenue, county governments receive a portion of the severance tax paid on each ton of phosphate rock mined at our facilities. With new mining operations, an entirely new revenue stream is created for the county government which can be invested in services for its citizens.
For example, the DeSoto mine plant construction is expected to require a capital investment from Mosaic of nearly $1 billion. This investment creates a ripple effect to surrounding businesses and a further increase in tax revenues for the county government. Construction of the plants will result in the creation of significant temporary construction jobs at the site.
Aside from the company’s cash investments in our operations, we believe that we have a responsibility to support the communities where we operate. After all, this is where we live, work and play as well. Each year, the company contributes millions of dollars to Central Florida charities and the United Way.
During the 2019 calendar year, Mosaic’s economic impact in Florida included:
• $446 million in payroll
• $448 million in capital expenditures
• $39 million in land reclamation
• $30 million in county tangible and real estate taxes
• $36 million in state severance and sales taxes
• $743,000 to United Way organizations in Florida
Clay Settling Areas
How many clay settling area failures have there been since tougher building standards were put in place almost 40 years ago?
Since 1972, the State of Florida put in place requirements for earthen dams. These included requirements for inspections, maintenance, and certification by professional engineers. This has virtually eliminated dam failures. In fact, there have been only two failures since that time. These incidents were traced to very specific reasons, which led to design modifications and further strengthening of the rules in 1999. There have been no failures or major releases since that time from any dam designed to the upgraded standards. Today, these upgraded standards are considered state-of-the-art and best management practices for earthen dam and reservoir construction. Currently, all Mosaic CSA design specifications meet or exceed Florida regulatory requirements.