Florida’s controversial plan to pave roads with a radioactive material via The Week

A bill could allow the state to use phosphogypsum in construction projects


MAY 16, 2023

A bill in the Florida House of Representatives, HB 1191, could potentially allow the Sunshine State to pave its roads with a material that is known to have a number of radioactive properties. Environmental groups are calling on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to veto the bill.

Phosphate rocks contain “small amounts of naturally-occurring radionuclides, mostly uranium and radium,” the EPA reported. As a result, phosphogypsum gives off traces of “the radioactive elements uranium, thorium, and radium,” according to the agency. It can also emit the radioactive gas radon, which has been known to cause significant health problems. “About 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. are radon-related,” the EPA said. “Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.”


Why are environmental groups upset? 

Environmental groups are concerned that large-scale projects using phosphogypsum could lead to the “contamination of air, water, and soil,” The Washington Post reported. Many of these groups have directly asked DeSantis to veto HB 1191. The plan to have roads paved with phosphogypsum is “an egregious handout to an industry that has a lengthy history of damaging the environment and putting public health at risk,” Ragan Whitlock, an attorney with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release

The groups have also raised concerns about existing problems with the way phosphogypsum is stored. “The industry has a demonstrated history of inadequate management when it comes to phosphogypsum waste,” the groups said, adding that the gypstacks are “prone to spills and sinkholes — like the breach at Piney Point and sinkholes at New Wales — that threaten Tampa Bay and the Floridan Aquifer.” 

What’s next? 

DeSantis hasn’t said whether or not he’ll veto HB 1191, though the Post noted he did veto a measure last year that would have raised costs for Floridians with solar panels. This may give some small indication as to what he might do. If he takes no action on the bill, it would go into effect automatically. 

Phosphogypsum-paved roads were approved by the EPA in 2020, but the decision was reversed after the Biden administration took office. The agency told NPR that any plans to use phosphogypsum would require an EPA review. 

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