The phosphate industry is a powerful economic force in the state of Florida. Phosphate is extracted in open pit mines and manufactured into industrial fertilizer. But for every ton of phosphoric acid produced, five tons of phosphogypsum—a radioactive waste containing heavy metals—is produced, too.
At least 734 million tons of this waste sits in 70 massive stacks in the United States; 25 of those stacks are located in Florida.
The stacks have seen a number of failures—in 2016, a sinkhole opened up beneath a stack in Mulberry, sending 215 million gallons of acidic process water into the Floridan aquifer, the state’s source of drinking water.