Florida Phosphate Contamination

Homeowners kept in the dark about extent of gamma radiation

A second lawsuit has been filed by central Florida homeowners charging that phosphate strip mining operations have caused widespread contamination in neighborhoods that were developed over reclaimed mines. 

According to the lawsuit, The Mosaic Company and two real estate developers did not disclose the presence of dangerous radiation contamination in and around the Angler’s Green and Paradise Lakes neighborhoods, which has exposed residents to gamma radiation levels many times the amount considered safe for humans. In related litigation, homeowners in the Oakbridge and Grasslands developments have sued The Drummond Company for dangerous contamination found in their neighborhoods. 

Public Health Emergency

State and federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been aware of the radiation problem for many years, but this information has been kept from the public until now.

Read and download the documents here.

In internal documents never before released to the public, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified industrial phosphate strip-mining operations that have scarred large areas of south central Florida and resulted in dangerous radiation contamination threatening generations of residents. In Polk County communities including Oakbridge, Grasslands, Paradise Lakes, Floral Lakes and Angler’s Green, residents are being exposed to cancer-causing gamma rays, as well as potentially high levels of radon gas after unknowingly purchasing homes built on top of and around former mines. According to these documents, the result is a large-scale public health emergency that mining companies like Drummond Company and Mosaic Company are refusing to acknowledge.

Phosphate Mines Turned into Neighborhoods

strip mining

To extract phosphate rock from the ground, phosphate mine operators use a strip mining process that scrapes off a sandy topsoil layer in large sections to expose a layer of phosphate, sand and clay. Mining operations typically retrieve about 9,000 tons of phosphate rock per acre, but create even larger amounts of toxic radioactive waste in the process. For every ton of phosphate recovered, the operations create five tons of hazardous waste material.

Some of the toxic waste is visible, like the radioactive gypsum stacks that cover hundreds of acres, reaching toward the sky and visible miles above the Earth, but much of the radiation threat is below the soil’s surface. As a result, homeowners unknowingly are being exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation rising up from below.

One of the most egregious examples is the Poseidon Mine, which was purchased by Drummond Company in 1978. In 1982, Drummond ceased mining operations and began developing 1,400 acres of mine-scarred land into subdivisions including Oakbridge and Grasslands.

In and around the Paradise Lakes and Angler’s Green subdivisions, phosphate mines operated by Mosaic Company have caused dangerous levels of radiation exposure. Even though these companies were aware of the toxic conditions on these properties, home buyers were not informed about the potential health threats.

before-development

after-development

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a result, residents in these neighborhoods are exposed to high concentrations of radiation from the breakdown of uranium in the soil. This radiation produces gamma rays that can penetrate the body and increase the risk of a variety of cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and bone cancer. The decaying uranium also releases radon, an odorless, radioactive gas that is linked to lung cancer. The gas seeps up into homes from underground and contaminates indoor and outdoor air. Exposure can also occur from contaminated water.

grasslands-before

grasslands-after

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed elevated levels of contamination in these residential areas. Tests performed by the EPA prior to the development of the Oakbridge subdivision showed radiation levels 11 to 21 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable risk limit. In 2003, the EPA’s Florida Phosphate Initiative noted that homes built on reclaimed mine property have heightened radiation levels, including a median radian concentration that is 4 to 22 times higher than pre-mined land and gamma exposure 2 to 3 times higher than normal. The EPA specifically identified Oakbridge as an area in urgent need of assessment. According to the health authorities, there is no “safe” exposure level to radiation.

oakbridge-beforeoakbridge-after

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State and federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been aware of the radiation problem for many years, but this information has been kept from the public until now. Read more here.

Recent Developments 

In recent developments from the litigation, Florida Department of Health authorities have acknowledged in deposition testimony that they have not published annual results of radiation tests for the last five years as required by the Florida regulations. In addition, deposition testimony has revealed that state workers have been using handheld radiation monitors that are not designed to measure the type of background gamma radiation at issue in these neighborhoods. Further, state workers have been improperly conducting the tests because the radiation measurements are being taken from vehicles. Pavement acts as a barrier to gamma radiation from underground, so thousands of air samples taken so far do not provide an accurate assessment of the radiation problem. 

Many of these disturbing revelations have been exposed in reporting by WFLA NBC Ch. 8. 

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