These Florida lawmakers oppose fertilizer giant Mosaic’s ‘radioactive roads’

A coalition of state and local lawmakers is making its stance known to federal environment regulators: Don’t allow a Tampa-based Fortune 500 fertilizer company to pave its roads with phosphogypsum, the mildly radioactive leftovers from phosphate manufacturing.

At least 30 lawmakers on Monday urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deny an application from Mosaic to use more than 300 tons of phosphogypsum as a test ingredient in road construction at the company’s New Wales plant in Mulberry.

Right now, Mosaic stores its phosphate byproduct in land-based piles, called gypsum stacks or “gypstacks.” But in a move that critics claim is driven by the desire for more profits, the company wants to remove the byproduct from its New Wales gypstack and mix it into a 1,200-foot road.

The controversial plan was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times in June, and the revelation came just weeks before Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that will allow the state’s transportation department to test the byproduct in roadways. Mosaic lobbied for the bill and covered the costs of a fundraiser — to the tune of $25,000 — for the state lawmaker who sponsored the measure.

As an EPA decision looms on whether to allow Mosaic to run the pilot project, elected officials from across the state are urging feds to shoot down the idea.

“On behalf of the communities that will bear the brunt of phosphogypsum in roads, we urge you to deny Mosaic’s application for a small-scale road pilot project in Florida,” the lawmakers wrote Monday in a letter to EPA head Michael Regan.

Scroll down to the end of the story for a list of lawmakers urging the EPA to deny Mosaic’s application.

“We will not accept radioactive waste in roadbeds which places our constituents, schools, waterways and communities in harm’s way,” the letter states.

Lawmaker participation for the letter was organized by the nonprofit environmental advocacy organization Surfrider Foundation, which is concerned about Mosaic’s proposed plan and the implications it may have for the future, according to Emma Haydocy, the group’s Florida policy manager.

Despite DeSantis’ approval of the controversial bill that will allow the Florida Department of Transportation to study phosphogypsum in roads, the majority of Floridians don’t want to be exposed to the material on their daily commute, Haydocy told the Times in a statement.

Eight state House representatives, two state senators and 21 mayors and local officials signed on to the letter. Endorsers include Democratic Sens. Lori Berman of Boynton Beach and Geraldine Thompson of Orlando, and Rep. Lindsay Cross of St. Petersburg.

For Cross, signing on to oppose Mosaic was an easy choice to make.

“I think it presents a slippery slope,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “We know how toxic and dangerous the waste products from phosphate mining are.”

She continued: “I don’t want to see this project be another way for the phosphate industry to make money on something that is potentially going to further jeopardize our ecosystems and our human health.”

If EPA officials greenlight the plan, Mosaic’s truck drivers would haul the tons of material to the test road, roughly a half-mile from where it’s currently kept. The test waste would be stored in a “staging area” until it’s ready to be blended with three ingredients for testing in roads: limerock, concrete and sand.

Construction workers, equipped with their own personal gamma radiation detectors, would spend about a month building the test road, records show.

In July, the EPA told the Times there was no set date for the upcoming decision on Mosaic’s application, but that a decision would arrive in the coming months. The agency couldn’t immediately provide an updated timeline as of Tuesday.

In records submitted to the EPA, Mosaic described its plan as an “intermediate step between laboratory testing and full-scale implementation” of phosphogypsum in roads.

For some concerned environmental advocacy organizations, that shows the company has big plans to profit by building roads across the state — and maybe the nation — using phosphogypsum.

In a statement, Mosaic blasted the letter as “political theatre” and “outright ignorance.” A company spokesperson claimed that current science supports reusing phosphogypsum in roadways and that some lawmakers who oppose the pilot project have not accepted Mosaic’s invitations to learn more about the initiative at their facility.

“As a community, our elected leaders should strive to learn more before stirring unnecessary panic about a study,” spokesperson Jackie Barron said in an emailed statement. “This is obviously a partisan political play and has nothing to do with science, which is unfortunate.”

Phosphogypsum contains radium-226, which emits radiation during its decay to form radon, a potentially cancer-causing, radioactive gas, according to the EPA. If approved, the pilot project would mark the first time the EPA has greenlit phosphogypsum use since its 2020 approval, and subsequent reversal, of a request to use the byproduct in American roads.

“If you approve the proposed application,” lawmakers wrote to the EPA, “our communities may be exposed to cancer-causing radon, carcinogens and heavy metals.”

Their letter continued: “Given our role as elected officials, we cannot support knowingly putting radioactive waste into roads that our constituents, including families and children, may utilize and ultimately whose health could be irrevocably compromised as a result.”

These are the lawmakers urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deny Mosaic’s application to test “radioactive roads”:

  • State Rep. Lindsay Cross, District 60-St. Petersburg

  • State Rep. Anna Eskamani, District 42-Orlando

  • State Rep. Rita Harris, District 44-Orlando

  • State Rep. Yvonne Hinson, District 21-Gainesville

  • State Rep. Michele Rayner, District 62-St. Petersburg

  • State Rep. Felicia Robinson, District 104-Miami Gardens

  • State Rep. Susan Valdés, District 64-Tampa

  • State Rep. Katherine Waldron, District 93-Wellington

  • State Sen. Lori Berman, District 26-Boynton Beach

  • State Sen. Geraldine Thompson, District 15-Orlando

  • Mayor Teri Johnston, city of Key West

  • Mayor Brent Latham, city of North Bay Village

  • Mayor James Rostek, city of Madeira Beach

  • Mayor Joshua Rydell, city of Coconut Creek

  • Mayor Judy Titsworth, city of Holmes Beach

  • Mayor Teresa Heitmann, city of Naples

  • Vice Mayor Mark Grill, city of St. Pete Beach

  • Vice Mayor Anna Hochkammer, village of Pinecrest

  • Commissioner Christopher Collins, city of Stuart

  • Commissioner Adriane Elliott, city of Apalachicola

  • Commissioner Jeremy Katzman, city of Cooper City

  • Council member Kem Mason, town of Lantana

  • Commissioner Idelma Quintana, city of Hollywood

  • Commissioner Jamie Robinson, city of Largo

  • Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, city of Key West

  • Councilperson Kenny Matlock, city of Marathon

  • Council member Katie Abbott, village of Pinecrest

  • Council member Denise Horland, city of Plantation

  • Council member Gina Driscoll, city of St. Petersburg

  • Council member Beth Petrunoff, city of Naples

  • Councilor April Thanos, city of Gulfport