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Author's Note: This article appeared in Weekly Planet/Creative Loafing.

It was also used at the Florida Phosphate Research Institute as a teaching aid.

THE BATTLE OVER HORSE CREEK Horse Creek is a little-known, small, and wonderful stream, with headwaters located in the so-called "four corners," the place where Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee and Polk counties meet. The creek meanders almost 40 miles through several counties to meet the Peace River. Most of its length, the creek is shaded by tall, twisted oaks draped with resurrection fern and Spanish moss. Except for a short, ditched portion, Horse Creek twists and turns in a natural scenic path. While at places it is unexpectedly wide, upstream in normal waters you could wade across it, and near the Peace a child could toss a stone to the other side. Its waters are usually clear and shallow, and swimming fishes are easily seen contrasted with the sandy bottom.

It is quiet along Horse Creek, except for the buzz of the insects, the call of the birds, and the wind going through the oaks. Largely rural, the land along its banks is like most of Florida was fifty years ago, before humans swamped the Sunshine State. Large lines of bobwhite quail pass through pastures and back yards and call out loudly at night. Deer wander down to the creek to drink, where otters play, and wading birds fish. At night, the stars are revealed above the creek without sky glow, the incoming burn of a meteorite is easily spotted, and there are no emergency sirens raging as ambulances and police swarm about the city - there is just the quietude of a bubbling stream.

While most Floridians have never heard of Horse Creek, it is the center of a raging human controversy which will determine the future of phosphate mining in Florida. Permitting of three phosphate mines in Manatee and Hardee counties has been inching its way through the permitting process, in one case for almost five years.

People who care about Horse Creek are worried about the possible effects on phosphate mining around it. Potential spills from clay settling areas, created in the process of separating phosphate from the earth, could wash down it. Mining could create potential changes in hydrology. Farther downstream, Charlotte County is worried about the impact on its rich estuary, Charlotte Harbor.

There is much going on you can't see, whispered about and defined by the word arbitration. There are legal hearings in progress. Not privy to the arbitration, one can only hope for the best.

Both sides have been spinning their own story. If one side said white, the other said not so dark. Both true statements.

Currently, 107,000 acres in Hardee County are owned, leased, or optioned by the phosphate industry for mining. This is about one-quarter of the county. Additional acres lie in DeSoto County. With those combined acres, the phosphate industry has a long profitable future in Florida. Without them, time is running out on Florida land economical to mine. Some company clocks are ticking quicker. Hardee County's newly created mining department thinks more land is at stake. They project as much as 160,000+ acres might eventually be mined, a third of their county.

The industry says too big a number. Some land is regulated wetlands. Other areas set-asides for wildlife corridors.

Opponents want the number high. The industry wants the number low. Both are telling the truth, based on certain assumptions. What assumptions will turn out to be true? Only time and permitting will tell. Or maybe, arbitration and legal hearings will tell.

Whoever you listen to, it's a lot of land. Culpability Before a writer weaves words affecting an industry which directly employs more than 7,000 Floridians and effects the health of our environment, readers have a right to know something about him. Thus I vet myself as someone who owns mining stocks, and who as a published writer and photographer has helped to destroy trees, while inadvertently encouraging the use of messy chemicals, both in producing film and paper.

For 17 years I was in business, selling people things they didn't need at a price they couldn't afford. I did that first for one friend who owned the business, then another. When my father died in 1995, I drove to California, and became a tree hugger - somewhere there is a photo of me with my arms around a redwood, planting a firm kiss. Before the business, I was in the Army a short spell, including a tour in Vietnam, which turned me from a Goldwater conservative to a McGovern liberal, putting me on the receiving end of two of the largest and most diametrically opposed Presidential landslides in history.

Since 1995, I have been on a probationary period of on-the-job training with Florida. I have hiked its trails, biked its paths, paddled its rivers and coasts, slept on it, and written three books about La Florida. I have edited other books on Florida's spiders, insects, and fishes, and am guilty of a number of articles glutting Florida magazines. I like my work, it is what I was always meant to do, and I hope it is of value to others. The most important thing to me is not to say anything which is incorrect. When my father died, I decided it was time to do what I wanted, to make up for a large waste of my time in the short space of life left.

Elsewhere I have written that the greatest gift my parents gave me was a life in Florida. I grew up in Pinellas County, where my father was a builder of homes. How could anyone not love a state with such beautiful beaches and so much natural splendor? As a child I was mesmerized by Florida. I have lived in Europe and Asia. I have pretty much been around the world. Florida is my part of it.

In this sense then, I have always been concerned and interested in the phosphate industry, because loving Florida I have been aware of the industry's accidents, including one in 1997 on the Alafia River, the aftermath of which struck very close to home. Having a degree in sociology (not mining, ecology, or biology), the first thing I wanted to do was meet some people who lived along the stream to find out how they might feel. To me, understanding the issue of mining around Horse Creek involves the feelings of humans who live there. People Along the Creek Blue-eyed, gray-haired, and becoming slightly forgetful, Bob Kelly lives in his solar-powered house on stilts besides Horse Creek. In times of heavy rainfall, he sometimes paddles to his home in a canoe.

This former South Florida salesman once led Sierra Club paddling trips about Florida and into the Okefenokee Swamp. He remembers fondly paddling his wife out to camp on Fakahatchee Island.

Once a scout master, Bob sends kids off to school mornings and greets them at the bus stop afternoons. He is everything a good neighbor should be.

While visiting on Bob's porch, an otter caught a fish below us in the creek.

"Sometimes," Bob said, "the otters go up onto that sand bank across from us and fight. You wouldn't believe it."

I asked Bob about phosphate mining near Horse Creek. "I don't want it," Bob said. "Everything will change, and it will never be the same."

Each day when nearby Solomon's Castle is open, Bob eats lunch in the "Boat-in-the-Moat," a full-sized replica of a pirate ship where visitors are served by Alane, daughter of Howard, the creator of Solomon's Castle, a man whose art, often made of junk, is full of wit, wisdom, and whimsy.

Alane's son Cole says wildlife is plentiful around the river. His friends had fawns which slept in-house on pillows. Cole has raised raccoon and possum, and recently came into possession of three piglets. He has captured and released over 20 different kinds of snakes. Once Alane's daughter came to her saying duct tape was needed. "What for?" Alane asked. "To tie an alligator's jaws shut." "What alligator?" she asked. The one under Cole.

People along the creek have concerns about the effect of mining on wildlife.

Restoration of mined lands has been required by law since 1975. When the land is restored, the industry says wildlife comes back. Not exactly so, one scientist at Archbold Biological Station told me, since the hard-to-see, little organisms often do not come back - small plants, insects, arachnids - and then not for a long time. Perhaps not as much wildlife returns as was once there. There is difference of opinion about how gopher tortoises fare.

"The land along Horse Creek is mostly ditched pasture land," one industry spokesman said. The habitat to be created by restoration, in his opinion, would be more valuable.

What is more valuable is a human judgment, of course.

Some people along the creek are currently engaged in cattle ranching. Alvin English's family came to the area in the early 1900s. His family ranched and owned a spread. Now Alvin works cattle at a nearby University of Florida agricultural research station.

When Alvin drives his truck out his several acre spread and turns left, he looks on the north side of the road where the Farmland Tract begins.

No permit has been filed to mine this tract - yet.

According to Alvin, it is also where the walls of a clay settling area were planned under the previous mining company. If so, Alvin might look east one day and see the walls, rising as high perhaps as 80 feet, from his house.

The English's well is less than 20 feet deep. The matrix nearby may be 70 feet deep. "There are a lot of little streams out there," Alvin says. "You can't tell me you can dig around here and not change things." A hunter and a fisherman, Alvin feels separated already from the Horse Creek he tramped from childhood and knows like the back of his hand. Alvin's truck bears a bumper sticker reading, "Vietnam Veteran and Proud of It." In his barn, Alvin showed me turkey beards, the trophy from shooting wild turkey, and the skull of a six point buck.

"You people in Tampa," Alvin said, standing up, facing toward metropolis, and putting his hand over his eyes like a scout staring at a distant horizon, "are looking west."

Now I assumed he was referring to the plan to dump water from a gypsum stack in the Gulf. He was referring to concerns about oil drilling. "You need to look east," he said, changing direction and referring to Horse Creek. It also bothers Alvin that these changes around him might be done to send fertilizer to China.

Other folks along the creek picked the location for a different kind of alternative lifestyle. Dennis and Julia Mader practice holistic healing on a 25-acre plot where visitors can listen to quiet trickle of Horse Creek.

Therapy includes meditation by the stream. Other parts of un-kinking from modern-day pressures include body oils and vegetarian diet. Dennis, who grew up in Lakeland, remembers swimming in reclaimed phosphate lakes. Dennis started Hardee County Citizens Against Pollution opposing mining. He sees resulting radiation and pollution as a health threat.

The industry says studies do not support those conclusions. Dennis and I are the same age, born in the same year. Dennis looks about 20 years younger than me. He obviously knows something about health and taking care of yourself I don't. There are a great number of studies claiming health risks and other studies minimizing or denying risks from phosphate mining.

"Have you heard Bill Byle speak yet?" Dennis Mader asked me. More than 30 organizations are opposed to mining along Horse Creek, all with their own spokesperson. Not one, however seems to have drawn the heat like Bill Byle. He was hired by Charlotte County to address their down-stream concerns for Charlotte Harbor through team permitting. Controversy At a Bradenton League of Women Voters meeting, Bill spoke. A fourth generation Cracker, his grandmother was born in 1890 in Bartow, heart of the phosphate industry, his grandfather a Fort Myers doctor. Bill joked there were broken-down pick-up trucks in his front yard. Bill was a school teacher first, then owned an environmental consulting company before going to work for the county.

Gray Gordon, a 32-year veteran of the phosphate industry, thinks Bill is "using scare tactics" and "about 10% of what he says is true." Gray and others from Cargill Industries were on hand when Bill spoke in Bradenton. They claimed they asked to speak and were not allowed. They said the meeting was rigged so they could not ask questions.

Maybe, maybe not, I don't know and couldn't tell.

It is Bill's recollection that at the end of his talk he asked if there were additional questions, and that Cargill folks didn't ask any. That the three of us - Gray, Bill, and I - saw this differently demonstrates how emotions running high on both sides can complicate the understanding of the other. Even in the case of a small public meeting's conduct, there was dispute and distrust.

Bill spoke of Charlotte County's concerns for its rich estuary, Charlotte Harbor. He ticked off reasons, such as changes in hydrology, and passed around a solidified hunk of clay from a settling pit to illustrate the difficulty water would have passing through it.

Among the documents Bill offered everyone in attendance was a US Geological Survey concluding that phosphate mining had reduced water from the Peace River reaching Charlotte Harbor. In part, the report said sinkholes opened in the river because of mining and springs stopped flowing.

Another study conducted by Ardaman and Ardaman, a well-respected geo-tech firm, was mentioned by Gray Gordon. This study says water levels declined, but blames that largely on rainfall. It points out that agriculture and drinking water take more water from the Peace than mining. Opponents would say mining diminishes water reaching the river by altering the surface and ground flow, which neither ag business or drinking water does.

The industry says the USGS study is flawed because it deals only with clay settling areas (CSAs). Opponents say Ardaman's study is flawed because it depends on an abstract model which may have nothing to do with reality.

Here is a lesson learned. The difficulty factor for knowing what is true and false becomes exponentially increased as more and more studies are given out. In phosphate-physics, for every study, there appears to be an equal and opposite study.

Assuming less fresh water reaches Charlotte Harbor, it could change the nature of one of Florida's most productive estuaries.

A final question for Bill at the meeting was: could he say anything positive about phosphate mining? He struggled and could not. Gray Gordon said, "He could have said everything we ate at the luncheon before the meeting was grown because of mining." Other Issues For Hardee County, the issue might be how much of its sub-surface it would care to have turned into clay from clay settling areas? Once turned into clay, what can the land be used for? The industry has provided many examples of what can be grown on top of the clay. Skeptics think many of the uses cost too much to be practical. How much of the county would go into clay?

To complicate the math, one of the mining companies intends to truck clay into nearby Polk County to settle in existing pits. Others don't intend to mine all the acres held.

I have heard figures from 27,000 to 80,000 acres. You can probably guess which figures came from industry and which from opponents. Hardee County planners think it will be 40,000+ acres of clay if 107,000 acres are mined. More if additional land becomes mined. Anyway, a whole bunch of clay.

Clay spills fouled the Peace and Alafia rivers for years. At normal water levels, Horse Creek does not have the width or depth of those rivers. Sometimes Horse Creek is a trickle.

Standing on a clay settling area's broad walls, on which trucks drive, it is difficult to imagine a breach. But in the past, CSAs have burst. Before WWII, the clay was even dumped into the rivers. Everything was. Later and until regulation of the industry in 1975, there were a lot of CSA spills. Since regulation, breaches reduced drastically. Every time 1,000 gallons of water or more is accidentally released, a Spill Incident Report is generated. It is likely that wading through weekly summaries at Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would provide information about "mini-spills," if they occur. Gray Gordon indicated that Hardee County could require extra dams and locating of CSAs away from the creek.

For Sarasota and Manatee counties, the issue is drinking water, which comes directly out of Horse Creek, according to Bill Byle. Opponents worry about reagents and radioactivity. Industry spokesman state their water complies with applicable freshwater standards.

Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties have different issues. There are phosphogypsum stacks along Tampa Bay or its rivers. Two small proposed mining tracts are actually in Manatee.

At least two phosphogypsum stacks are active along Tampa Bay, and there have been past spills into the Alafia which flows into it. There are no plans to build additional fertilizer processing plants along Horse Creek, thus Horse Creek is not threatened by a gyp stack spill. Tampa Bay is.

Phosphogypsum is a by-product of making fertilizer. It has no present use. The Environmental Protection Agency banned it from road building in the 1990s. Industry folks think this was a little picky of EPA. The reasoning was if roads were later taken up and the gyp base used for housing there might be radon gas in such homes.

While a stack is active, there is a lake of phosphoric acid water on top, approaching a billion gallons. A phosphogypsum stack at Piney Point threatens to spill into Tampa Bay. Plans have been approved to dump 500 million gallons of it into the Gulf, out of fear the stack might collapse with heavy rains and decimate Tampa Bay. This water is from a left-over stack from Mulberry Phosphates.

The specter of Mulberry Phosphate looms over the industry. Big Business In 1997, a phosphoric acid plume from a Mulberry Phosphate stack poured into the Alafia River and wiped out small life for miles. Dead fish and birds littered the river. Smaller things which lived in the bottom or banks died without notice (except to them).

It was a terrible thing to see.

After promising to fix the devastation from this spill, Mulberry Phosphate went out of business.

Mulberry Phosphate's stacks are being shut down. The severance tax on phosphate is being used to pay for it.

The four remaining companies making fertilizer, now spun as plant food, say it is unfair to taint them with the Mulberry Phosphate brush.

It is.

And it isn't.

They are led by people like Gray Gordon, who qualifies as class-A socially responsible in my book. Their employees are as hard working and conscientious as any others. Among generous acts, Cargill leases islands in Tampa Bay to Audubon and Lithia Springs to the county for one dollar a year.

However, no one can guarantee there will not be additional accidents. The industry doesn't want them, of course. They cost money and cause bad publicity for an industry that gets a lot of bad publicity anyway. If industry leaders were Samantha the Witch they would blink their collective eyes, twitch their noses, and make accidents and Mulberry Phosphates go away. They would make gyp stacks go away too, probably.

Accidents happen.

There is no guarantee accidents will not happen again.

Businesses go in and out existence, life spans determined by their nature, ownership, management, and economic winds. Not matter how unlikely, another spill from a company going out of business and unable to foot the bill can't be entirely ruled out. The industry says one answer is more wads of insurance. Some opponents say the answer is to stop mining. Others offer compromises with more regulation and monitoring.

At present, it is hard to imagine the companies involved going out of business.

Cargill is a very large company. It has 75,000 employees, about 5,000 in Florida, not all in mining. Its sales and assets number billions of dollars. Cargill got into the Florida phosphate business by buying Gardinier and Seminole Phosphate.

Hardee County has less than 30,000 residents and a much smaller budget. Cargill's headquarters is in Minnesota. Hardee County's is in Wauchula. There are even a lot of Floridians who don't know where Wauchula is located.

Gray Gordon provided a tour of Cargill's mine at Hookers Prairie, where we went out on an active dragline. Gray took me on both an active and inactive gypsum stack at the Alafia River and US-41. He answered all questions asked, as have representatives of the other mining companies. IMC Phosphates and CF Industries took me on tours of clay settling areas.

In my opinion, they have not lied, nor has Bill Byle, but everyone has told the truth, which is their side of the story, which differs. To the industry, phosphate is needed to feed Americans and the world. They feel they do all they can to prevent accidents and reduce health risks, which they feel are currently over-stated. If there are accidents, they are an unfortunate side-effect of producing food. Opponents are skeptical. They're certainly in favor of feeding people who need food, but not so convinced the potential consequences for Florida are worth it. Some people believe in alternative farming. This is another vast issue, larger in scope than this article. Once there were maybe 200 phosphate mining companies in Florida. Now there are three.

Besides Cargill, there is IMC Phosphates, a publicly-traded company which began in Tennessee, and CF Industries, owned by eight Midwestern farm co-ops.

CF Industries is a much smaller company than Cargill or IMC with less than 1,000 employees in Florida. Its rock and fertilizer stays in the US.

IMC is a billion dollar operation and the largest phosphate mining company in the world. IMC's assets and balance sheet are not as big as Cargill's, a more diversified company, but most of us would swap bank accounts.

According to stock analyst's reports, 54% of what IMC mines is exported. Cargill exports too.

Another company in the industry, US Agrichem, does not mine. It buys rock from IMC and makes fertilizer. Despite its name, it is Chinese owned, the parent company called Sinochem. It has a contract to buy rock until 2024 from IMC.

Unlike the mining companies, there have been no responses to my requests to US Agrichem to talk to their spokespeople. It is not clear if rock sold to US Agrichem is in the exported 54% of sales in the stock analyst's report on IMC. I have asked the Standard & Poor's analyst this question through a stockbroker, but the analyst did not answer.

Opponents emphasize that it is Communist China the declining US rock supply is going to. The industry makes a point of using the full name, the People's Republic of China.

Industry sources say they are in business to make a profit. We are not at war with China. There is no embargo. People there need to eat too. So does phosphate feed the world?

No, but it does feed a lot of it indirectly.

When I go to the store, I buy that expensive stuff labeled organic. It is not made with fertilizer. Usually a first crop is burned and plowed under to nourish the food crop. Like early Native Americans, organic farmers are burning off the land to grow crops. That means growing two crops to produce one. That's why it's more expensive.

Most sources say that phosphate doubles the crop yield, although others feel the ag industry is addicted to phosphate and over-fertilizes. Immense Works of Man In order to get at the phosphate nodules, which were deposited when Florida was underwater eons ago, it is necessary to scrape off the layer of earth above them. In industry jargon, this layer is called the "overburden," land we walk and live on, and later are buried in. Florida overburden can vary from 20 to 70 feet below our Nikes.

Beneath overburden, lies the "matrix" - not a world where Keneau Reeves dodges bullets or runs up walls. The matrix is where the phosphate is located - the Mother Lode.

In Central Florida, bones and sharks teeth are often found with matrix. The bones are from long vanished mastodons, saber-tooth tigers, giant armadillos, and weird-looking sloths. Because of these animal relics, the area is called Bone Valley.

Towering draglines scrape away at the matrix using giant buckets. Two of my Hondas would fit in a bucket.

The enormity of a dragline, when seen at a distance, is not diminished up close and personal. There are several levels of housings where gears turn, electricity surges, and machines run. Each level is as big as my house.

For someone who could not build stable structures with an erector set as a kid, it is hard not to be impressed with such feats of engineering. Operating the dragline was a man who deftly manipulated this enormous machine with touches of his fingers. He had worked in Bone Valley since 1964, likely raised a family and sent kids to school, while Gray and I were in the armed forces, college, business, and Bill was a teacher, consultant, and county employee.

Behind the dragline, a powerful water-jet was operated by two working guys in overalls. The matrix was being slurried to be piped off for separation.

Phosphate is separated from the sand and clay in a large, specialized building. Sand is used in reclamation. In some operations, sand goes into the clay settling areas.

The clay is put out into settling areas until full to capacity or operations cease. When the settling area is full or no longer needed, the water is drawn off, the clay topped with sand and soil, and restoration starts.

In other areas of Hookers Prairie, enthusiastic, bright-eyed folks were at work planting sawgrass. The woman in charge of these efforts had worked at the Smithsonian, been a school teacher, and now felt rewarded by bringing something living out of land which had been scraped clean, mined, and turned upside down.

Mining of any type in intrusive. Strip mining requires cuts into the earth. Phosphate is strip mined. Less intrusive mining techniques apparently don't work in Florida.

About 1,000 acres of sawgrass marsh has been planted at Hookers Prairie as part of land restoration. An improvement in the minds of Cargill's workers from the tangled, shrub-dominated prairie proceeding it - another value judgment.

Mined phosphate gets loaded onto trains to be sent to the fertilizer plant, maybe the one by the Alafia River, besides Tampa Bay. The phosphate separated from the matrix needs work to become plant food. At the fertilizer plant, sulfuric acid is added to the phosphate and fertilizer and phosphogypsum produced. There are different types of fertilizers, and some phosphoric acid goes into animal feed. A small amount becomes "other."

Phosphate is shipped out of Port Tampa (50-60% of its business), and left-over gypsum stacked up in pyramid-like structures, so big a base may be 400 acres.

When mankind is gone and an alien archeologist arrives, it will be as puzzled by these pyramids as it will be by the giant rodent statue in Orlando.

In human terms, gypsum stacks are long-lived.

Terra-forming....raised lands from clay settling areas and gyp stacks dominate some vistas along roads like SR-37 and SR-39. From a helicopter, they are the most prevalent feature of Central Florida. How vast the works of man. How vast the scale of his accidents. Since regulation in 1975, there have been at least nine accidents of such magnitude they were reported in the popular press.

Is all this human activity and environmental threat worth it?

That depends on who you ask. This is a value judgment. Bill and Gray have different value judgments supported by conflicting studies and opinions.

Unfortunately, the people who should make this value judgment, the people of Florida, are doing so by default. Democracy On the morning of April 15, having the entire night to ponder a compromise between Charlotte County and IMC over a portion of a small mining tract, I clicked on my icon for the story you are reading, and started it heading across my desktop toward the trash bin. I was becoming disheartened and depressed. Why?

An arbitration process, whispered about and known only to a few, had just resulted in a small compromise in a big battle.

Five hundred acres would be mined. Water would be monitored. If water quality decreased, mining would be stopped. It was a victory, some said, for Charlotte County. I could pick it apart, but I won't. Maybe it will work. Give it a chance.

After all, the other counties which opposed mining around Horse Creek - Lee, Manatee, and Sarasota - had dropped opposition to the small mine in Manatee County. They said they could then concentrate on opposing mining on a much larger tract in Hardee County.

Still I had the sinking feeling this was the first in a series of small compromises, where decisions would be made for the voiceless in the name of common sense, goodwill, and for citizens who weren't there. What is the sense of a journalist making an exploration and writing an article, if the decisions are not made by potential readers, but by arbitrators and county officials of a far off county? About halfway across the desktop, I lifted my finger and thought how I would explain dropping the story to editor Jim Harper.

"Spills are bad, Jim, I am certain of that, but I am not smart enough to sort out issues about radiation, restoration, and hydrology. Looks worrisome to me, but I am not a physicist or geologist. But more than that, I get the feeling some nice people might get disappointed before this is all over. And I am starting to become emotionally involved in the story because I think the people of the state are not being consulted or proportionately represented."

Whether mining should occur is a value judgment. It should not be up to me or you - or to the mining companies, a handful of administrators, arbitrators, and a few county commissioners - but to all of Florida. In my mind, those making such a value judgment should include the citizens of Florida since it is their state, which in vast chunks is being terra-formed, and their Gulf and rivers into which things are being spilled.

When a permit is given to Hardee County, they must do certain things with it, and then they pass it on to a Central Florida Regional Planning Council. From there it goes to DEP, Bureau of Mine Reclamation, the water management district, Department of Transportation, Department of Community Affairs, the Corps of Engineers, and sometimes other counties. In the end, and sometimes years later, the county commission where mining takes place votes yes or no.

The true question should be put to the people of Florida: do you or do you not want phosphate mining to continue knowing the benefits and risks, potential and real? But no one is really asking the people of Florida.

Current permitting includes more input than old permitting did. One retired mining executive told me of the days when the only permit he needed was one for the septic tank near the office. Still, permitting is a far cry from a democratic process in which the people of Florida have a voice.

The icon containing this story got pretty close to the trash bin. Then I decided maybe the compromise in Charlotte County wasn't the beginning of the end. Maybe it was reasonable, and a effective way of showing cooperation leading to better settlements. I am hoping that's true. I am hoping people will look into the issues themselves and reach their own conclusions. I am also hoping for a more open, democratic process. That's a lot of hope, but it is also the reason why the icon stayed out of the trash bin.

But I am not holding my breath. Major Phosphate Accidents since 1975 1980 Agrico: clay settling area spill dumps 12 million gallons into the Peace River. 1988 Gardinier: phosphoric acid spill at the mouth of the Alafia River. 1989 Big Four Mine: release of waters from clay settling area in Polk County. 1990 Gardinier: 250,000 gallons of waters from clay settling area into the Peace River. 1993 Cargill: east Tampa Plant in Gibsonton spills acidic water into Archie Creek. 1994 IMC-Agrico: phosphogypsum stack drops through a sinkhole. 1994 Cargill: 20 million gallons of water from a sand tailing pit go into the Peace River. 1994 IMC-Agrico: a half-billion gallons of water from a clay settling area flood Keysville area in Hillsborough County and go into the Alafia. 1997 Mulberry Phosphates: 54 million gallons from a gyp stack dump into the Alafia. Web sites Bureau of Mine Reclamation, Cargill Central Florida Regional Planning Council Charlotte County DEP Florida Institute of Phosphate Research Florida Phosphate Council Florida Public Research Information Group Hardee County Citizens Against Pollution IMC Global Tampa Bay Watch Break out your calculators. A curie (named after Madam Marie Curie) is equal to the amount of any radioactive material in which the rate of disintegration per second is 3.7 x 10 to the 10th power per gram. Ouch! Set your calculator for a lot of zeroes.

The surface of land within the mining region on the average has a reading of 10 picocuries per gram, a picocurie = 1/billionth of a curie. The matrix has radioactivity of 35 picocuries per gram on the average. The concentration of the materials in the clays and gypsum after mining may average 35-40 picocuries per gram. Sand has almost 0.

No one is real sure about the long term health risks from this relatively small and pervasive elevation in radioactivity in phosphate areas. There are dueling studies about radioactivity in fishes, birds, and wildlife, and strongly-held opposing views. I bet you can decide which side thinks there is no real risk and which one believes there is.

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