Sink holes like this on in Florida are destroying property and lives. Strip mining to produce phosphate for fertilizers for Big Ag is a primary cause. Image Source.

Phosphate Fertilizers: A Product of Modern Mass-produced Agriculture that Threatens our Health and Land

by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News

Most health conscious and environmentally concerned people understand the problems facing us today due to modern agricultural and biotech practices.

In the U.S. today, less than 1% of our population is producing the food for the country. When the U.S. was founded, about 90% of the population was involved in agriculture, and by the time Abraham Lincoln became president, that number still stood at around 50% of the population producing food for the country.

Today, traditional small-scale sustainable farming is rare and has been replaced by biotech and the mass production of food. GMO food, along with the contamination of the food supply by pesticides and herbicides, is fairly well known today.

But there is one aspect of modern-day agriculture that often slips under the radar of public awareness that is as ecologically harmful to human health or even worse.

It is the worldwide phosphate fertilizer industry. And it is especially out of control here in America, in China, and in other regions to lesser extents.

Florida’s phosphate industries supply 75 percent of U.S. fertilizers. Now the world’s largest phosphate mining and manufacturing company, Mosaic Fertilizer, is looking to grab more land in Florida with the usual carrot of economic development, put simply, more local jobs. 

Those who know the history and methods of this industry are trying to convince ignorant citizens and county commissioners that the risks far outweigh the benefits promised, even if actually fulfilled.  

Mosaic Fertilizer has already settled a $2 billion lawsuit to clean up 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste in Florida and Louisiana – one of the largest federal lawsuits ever settled.

Now it wants to grab even more land in Florida, seeking 18,000 acres for strip mining.

David vs Goliath in Florida 

In Central Florida, members of Facebook’s “Wake Up DeSoto” are trying to raise public awareness to stop Central Florida’s DeSoto County Commission from allowing phosphate mining and fertilizer company, Mosaic, to settle into their county with permission to use 18,000 acres in the area for its toxic industry. 

Mosaic, formerly based out of Minnesota, but now headquartered in Florida, has a history of causing ecological damage wherever it has positioned its mining and manufacturing operations as do other similar companies.  

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance stated:

Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector. Reducing environmental impacts from large fertilizer manufacturers operations is a national priority for EPA.

After eight years of EPA investigation and negotiations with Mosaic, the company finally agreed on a settlement totaling 2 billion dollars to safely remove 60 billion pounds of toxic waste from two plant sites in Louisiana and six sites in Florida. 

The EPA investigation into Mosaic’s and other phosphate industry practices was initiated after toxic waste was discovered from a plant located near Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge was discovered along the edge of the bay in 2003. Earlier, Mosaic had also been ticketed for air pollution violations. (Source)

It’s known that Mosaic contributes to Florida state politicians on both sides of the aisle. DeSoto County environmental activists are suspicious of the county commission’s leadership as well. From one of DeSoto County’s environmental unnamed activists who emailed Health Impact News:   

The Florida FDEP [Florida Department of Environmental Protection] permits all this stuff… they know that the clay settling ponds will spill over during the rainy season and discharge [waste] water. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’

The settling ponds mentioned are atop huge stacks of solid waste that are up to 200 feet high and spread across hundreds of acres. They are the only “mountains” on Florida’s mostly flat land.

Phosphate Fertilizer Mining Creates Ecological and Human Health Issues 

Gathering phosphate, which is abundant throughout Florida, where most USA phosphate mining and fertilizer processing occurs, is accomplished through strip mining. Essentially, strip mining scrapes a good portion of the earth’s surface to gather what has to be sorted and processed for a final product.

For starters, this creates a large swath of land not fit for farming, development, or recreation unless reclamation is demanded by government agencies, which often takes quite a while to occur and is usually not restored back to its original pristine status. 

With phosphate mining, a dragline with a scoop the size of a truck scoops 15 to 30 feet of earth over anywhere from 5,000 acres to sometimes thousands more. The real mining of phosphate ore then begins with the same technique after the earth that’s dug up, considered “overburden”, and is piled high around the site area. 

The material containing phosphate ore also contains almost equal amounts of clay and sand. This material is called “matrix,” and it’s dumped into pits containing high-pressure water guns to separate the clay and sand from the phosphate ore. The clay and sand create a waste item that at one time could be sold for construction purposes, phosphogypsum slurry.  

Though pure gypsum used for new construction, phosphogypsum, is no longer allowed due to traces of radioactive uranium and radium. Phosphogypsum separated from phosphate ore becomes more radioactive. 

Without a customer base for phosphogypsum and no place allowed away from the mining and/or refining site to dump the radioactive slurry, fertilizer mining sites pile it up on the property leased or permitted from local governments and call them “gypsum stacks.”

Massive amounts of good groundwater used for processing are under gypsum, or “gyp” stacks, weaken support under the 150 – 200 ft stacks with pools of hydrosilocic waste on top of them. These large pools are purportedly meant to allow evaporation of the toxic liquids. 

Central Florida’s flat, sandy topography is naturally sinkhole-prone. And the underground aquifers, or water tables, used for processing waters make the earth above more vulnerable with the added pressure of massive artificially-created gypsum stacks. 

When a sinkhole occurs under a gypsum stack, the waste pool on top of the stack dumps the toxic liquids into the underground water table or aquifer. This is not conjecture. It has happened.

The Phosphate Fertilizer Industry Provides the Chemical Used to Fluoridate City Water Supplies

A major toxic gaseous byproduct from manufacturing phosphate fertilizers has to be gathered by smokestack “wet scrubbers” in order to comply with air pollution regulations put in place a few decades ago, after gases emitted from plant smokestacks ruined nearby crops, killed livestock, and seriously sickened humans.  

In its newly liquefied form, from being gathered by wet scrubbers, it is packaged as a hazardous substance to be sold and shipped to a majority of municipalities where they purchase this toxic waste to fluoridate their water supplies.

At first, in 1983, the EPA was hugely in favor of this method, which is considered a win-win for both not polluting the immediate environment and boosting dental health throughout the nation. Fluoride protection for teeth was the current medical myth at the time, which most still hold dearly today.

According to recent estimates, the phosphate industry sells approximately 200,000 tons of silicofluorides (hydrofluorosilicic acid & sodium silicofluoride) to US communities each year for use as a water fluoridation agent. (Source)  

But in the year 2000, a top EPA scientist and administrator, Dr. William Hirzy, stated:

If this stuff gets out into the air, it’s a pollutant; if it gets into the river, it’s a pollutant; if it gets into the lake it’s a pollutant; but if it goes right into your drinking water system, it’s not a pollutant… There’s got to be a better way to manage this stuff. (Source)

The Hard to Swallow Truth: A Documentary on Fluoride Dangers

The Final Fertilizer Product Delivers the Last Ecological Blow

Inorganic phosphate fertilizers cause ecological harm. Further processing of mined phosphate adds nitrogen to the mix. Phosphate fertilizers are used extensively in large-scale factory farming and among non-organic small farms. Runoff water from farms using these fertilizers combine to pollute aquifers that many communities siphon for their water. 

The runoff water containing these fertilizers seep into aquifers and underground water tables to pollute drinking water. Water seepage from farms using phosphate fertilizers flow into inland waterways and lakes, eventually spilling into coastal ocean waters, disturbing the ecological balance of aquatic plant life and creating oxygen-deprived “dead zones”. 

It may seem paradoxical that a mineral with nitrogen essential to plants and life, in general, would create dead zones in lakes and coastal water. What happens is too much nitrogen from these fertilizers kills off vital algae and creates an algae imbalance, negatively affecting symbiotic species. 

This adversely affects the whole marine life food chain to create a dead zone that threatens marine life. Dead zones have occurred in coastal waters such as the Chesapeake Bay, several Florida coastal inlets, and the Great Lakes as well as smaller inland lakes.  (Source)

Although plant crops may thrive with phosphate fertilizers, the soil does not. It becomes leached of minerals from the fertilizer and the method of large-scale mono-crop farming that demands more and more phosphate fertilizing.

This farming method is considered more rapidly lucrative than cultivating more than one crop to allow crop rotation, which is good for the soil and allowing various parts of the land’s soil to rest for a year as fallow soil. 

Big Ag’s large scale farming methods are unhealthy for all along the food chain and impossible to sustain.

Beyond the Imminent Dangers

It appears there is a finite limit to the phosphate mining required by this fertilizer that is claimed to help Big Ag feed the world’s demand of an expanding population. Does that phrase seem familiar? It’s the propaganda used by the biotech’s GMO industry, designed to sell more toxic pesticides provided by those who create the genetically modified seeds for crops to withstand the poisons.

The solution for both extreme fertilizer use and GMO interventions is organic farming that serves regional areas. This has been studied by various UN international groups assigned to do an unbiased study on what can actually feed the world and sustain itself without harming the environment and the animals and people in it. 

How Organic Farming Could Release Us From the Curse of Fertilizer

This transition can take some time, and it’s not going happen by decree of most governments, which are usually part of the problem through either ignorance or corruption. It’s going to take consumer choices, selecting mostly organic and locally-grown foods, and disenchanted farmers joining the ranks of organic farmers, which though not covered by the mainstream news, is gradually happening.

In the meantime, creating a more environmentally-compatible method of phosphate mining may help during the hopefully anticipated change to more organic and sustainable farming.

Sources for this article include:

Phosphate giant Mosaic agrees to pay nearly $2 billion over mishandling of hazardous waste 

Mosaic gypsum stack sink hole exposes a wrong

Chemical Fertilizers Poisoning Drinking Water

Dying Coral Reefs Linked to Chemical Fertilizers and Factory Farms

The Hard to Swallow Truth: A Documentary on Fluoride Dangers

How Organic Farming Could Release Us From the Curse of Fertilizer

Fortune 500 phosphate company Mosaic moving headquarters to Florida

RE: Rezoning of 14,053.40+ of land from Agriculture 10 (A10) to Phosphate Mining-Industrial (PM-I)

Phosphate giant Mosaic agrees to pay nearly $2 billion over mishandling of hazardous waste

Florida Fertilizer Plant Sinkhole Reportedly Leaks 215 Million Gallons of Radioactive Water Into Aquifer

Nitrogen & Phosphorus