Pollution from Florida mining a concern with Hurricane Ian

Environmental groups say that Hurricane Ian could leak or otherwise pollute more than a billion tonnes of polluted waste from Florida’s phosphate fertiliser mining industry. The waste is stored in “stacks” that look like huge ponds.

There are 24 of these phosphogypsum stacks in Florida. Most of them are in mining areas in the middle of the state. The Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute says that about 30 million tonnes of this slightly radioactive waste are made every year.

Ragan Whitlock, staff attorney for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email Tuesday, “A big storm like the one we’re preparing for could flood the facilities with more water than the open-air ponds can hold.”

“We are very worried about what Hurricane Ian might do to phosphate plants all over the state,” Whitlock said.

In March 2021, a leak at a stack called Piney Point caused about 215 million gallons of dirty water to leak into Tampa Bay. This killed a lot of fish. With a $100 million budget and the help of a court-appointed receiver, state officials are working to close down that troubled place.