Thoughts on Piney Point

On the Gulf side of Florida, a vast pond built to store waste from a phosphate mine is leaking. It is horrifying; hard to even grasp the size and enormity of what this giant elevated pond thingee is unless you see it in a photo. Until the other day, I had only seen an aerial-view photo. When I first saw a photo that shows how high the thing is, with the toxic liquid storage pond so high up, I was shocked anew at what we humans have done and considered “business as usual.” Now people in three counties are being evacuated. (Update, I just heard the evacuation is over, as officials say risk of catastrophe has lowered.)

From a fellow permaculture designer/educator, astute words:

“I believe that Piney Point is the manifestation of a system based on consumption and not a balanced relationship with nature. As long as we continue to trade the health of our ecosystem for financial wealth we will continue to create Piney points.”

And my take: So as permaculturists or eco-activists or earth guardians or however we each choose to identify ourselves, maybe part of our task is to help society find the ways to be able to have both prosperity/comfort AND ecosystem health. I actually think this might be our life-calling as eco guardian folk on this planet right now.

Further Reading:

Background on Piney Point (via Glenn Compton from ManaSota-88):


One of the most serious problems associated with the phosphate industry is the gypsum waste produced at phosphoric acid plants. At the present time there are no federal, state or local regulations requiring the industry to make final disposition of phosphogypsum wastes in an environmentally acceptable manner.

The phosphate industry has dumped in excess of 900 million tons of radioactive wastes in Florida and is producing over 20 million tons of phosphogypsum waste annually, and the industry continues to expand their dumping operations.

Phosphogypsum has no economic value because of its impure content. It is dumped at various locations throughout Florida in gyp stacks. Piney Point in Manatee County is one example of a gyp stack.

Phosphogypsum that exceeds 10 picocuries per gram (pCi/g) of radioactivity has been banned from all uses by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1992. This decision reflected the EPA’s concern that the radium bearing waste, if spread throughout the country, would present a public health threat that would continue for generations, given radium’s 1,630-year radioactive decay half-life.

To date, there have been no published scientific studies confirming that there is a “safe” industrial process to convert phosphogypsum for uses such as landfill cover. Exposure to 20 pCi/g of radiation is not justified by any health study. EPA should be developing a program geared toward protecting the public’s health and the environment from the radioactive components of phosphogypsum.

Allowing phosphogypsum to be used for landfill cover could open the regulatory door for the use of phosphogypsum in construction or agricultural applications. This will put the general public at an unacceptable risk as the phosphogypsum will become widespread in its distribution. The radioactive decay of this material will likely emit particles that can cause increased cancer risks and unacceptable radiation levels in areas normally not having such problems.

More stringent environmental regulation is needed to control the adverse impacts of phosphogypsum. Phosphate rock for central Florida has some of the highest levels of radiation in the United States. Allowing for the widespread distribution of phosphogypsum will lead to less oversight of a dangerous waste product.

EPA lacks the ability to protect the public and the environment from hazards associated with the widespread dispersal of phosphogypsum. The distribution of phosphogypsum will unnecessarily expose workers, the environment, and the general public to otherwise avoidable radon and gamma radiation exposure.

Phosphate companies have had over 50 years to figure out a way to dispose of the radioactive gypsum wastes in an acceptable manner, they have yet to do so. EPA should not permit phosphate wastes to be used in Florida landfills, or in construction or agricultural applications.

Every possible effort to minimize radiation exposure to the public should be done. The EPA is mandated to protect the health of the environment and the people of this nation. However, in this case, EPA is serving the phosphate industry and needlessly opening the door to future distributions of radioactive phosphogypsum wastes.” …

And in closing, I add: You have some version of this in your bioregion. Be it fracking, oil pipelines, mountaintop removal, vast floating plastic garbage patch, or what have you. Human insanity writ large. Humans caused the problems, so we can just as well solve them. Must solve them. Who gets a planet with majestic mountains, clear blue springs, mighty oceans, cathedral forests … and turns it into this degraded mess we’ve turned it into, and then dies or leaves without fixing it? Nope, not us — I refuse to believe we will do that.

The good news is, Nature repairs herself remarkably quickly if we humans can stem the tide of our destructive outputs. We saw this during the pandemic shutdown; the effect on ecosystems was striking and in some cases almost immediate.

By the way, I have realized that when I post grim news, I’m generally not doing it to boost your awareness; you are already aware. Or to increase your sense of urgency — you already have that. Rather, I’m doing it to give you (and myself) the emotional support we need in order to keep up our upstream-swimming mission of shifting our civilization from a hyperconsumerist to a regenerative one, by popularizing low-footprint living. Grim news keeps up our courage; refuels our “why” when the going gets rough; reaffirms that we are making the right choice by choosing to serve as earth guardians.

(And of course, grim news is only the “stick” end of the equation; I believe in providing you and myself with plenty of carrots as well. We need our carrots! But a stick here and there is a remarkable clarifying tonic and motivating force.)

Synchronicity just now: This morning I heard from the service leader of a congregation I’m going to be giving a talk for* later this month. She told me she’d picked a Greta Thunberg quote for my intro. It’s my favorite quote of hers, so I was thrilled!

The quote: ” (oops, internet brownout right now – I’ll grab it for you once the pipeline gets wider again. During the brownouts (which mainly seem to happen when a lot of tourists are in town, which is all the time lately), I can mostly still post to this blog but I have a hard time accessing websites and Facebook. It’s the quote about how we have to act like our house is on fire, because it is.)

OK, I just walked down the street and got a better connection – here’s the quote: “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

* (The talk is by Zoom, so I’m pretty sure anyone can attend — message me if you want the Zoom coordinates. I’ll be speaking for about 25 minutes, followed by a Q&A session. The title of my talk is “Little Things Make a Big Difference.”)

Further Further Reading:

Greta Thunberg: We Don’t Want Your Hope (