Hurricane Ian is battering the Florida coast and threatens phosphate fertilizer mining operations in the state, where excess pollutants are contained in highly concentrated ponds or “stacks.” Leaks or spills from the stacks threaten human and environmental health.
Catherine Kling is an environmental economist and an expert in water quality modeling who served for 10 years on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Kling says the pollutants resulting from commercial fertilizers represent “one of the most ubiquitous water quality problems facing the nation,” and that a spill from the stacks could have significant costs.
“Excess phosphorous from commercial fertilizers is one of the most ubiquitous water quality problems facing the nation. The social cost of this pollutant is increasingly apparent as fresh water is fouled, wildlife is destroyed, homes near polluted water ways lose value, and recreational opportunities are curtailed.
“The long run consequences of a spill from these highly concentrated containment ponds could generate huge social and economic costs to the surrounding communities.”
Johannes Lehmann is a professor of soil and crop sciences who studies sustainable agriculture, soil nutrition and nutrient recycling from wastes. Lehmann says we must do more to both safely store and recycle nutrient-rich wastes.
“We need to make sure that all nutrient-rich wastes — from fertilizer excess to dairy manure and other agrowastes — are stored safely, but also that they can be recycled. We need a true circular economy that recycles nutrient-rich wastes to agricultural fertilizers. We need to move the fertilizer industry from a mining and fossil-fuel industry to a recycling industry.”