EPA allows fertilizer byproduct to be used in road construction to reduce waste

EPA allows fertilizer byproduct to be used in road construction to reduce waste

By finding a new way to use phosphogypsum, EPA says it is helping create a sustainable path to improve the environment while allowing for responsible reuse and recycling of a valuable byproduct.

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October 15, 2020

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Oct. 14 that he has approved a request from The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) to allow phosphogypsum to be used in government road construction projects.

Phosphogypsum, a byproduct material of phosphate fertilizer production, is by regulation disposed of in massive above-ground piles commonly called “stacks.” Each stack can span thousands of yards, be higher than a football field is long, and contain approximately 70 million tons of phosphogypsum. By finding a new way to use phosphogypsum, EPA says it is helping create a sustainable path to improve the environment while allowing for responsible reuse and recycling of a valuable byproduct.

“Allowing the reuse of phosphogypsum shows EPA’s commitment to working with industry in a way that both reduces environmental waste and protects public health,” Wheeler says. “The approval of this request means that phosphogypsum, which already requires significant engineering and regulatory controls to be disposed of in stacks, can now be put to productive use rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. This demonstrates President Trump’s commitment to ‘win-win’ environmental solutions.”

“TFI strongly supports and appreciates EPA’s science-based review and decision to allow the limited use of phosphogypsum, a byproduct of phosphate fertilizer manufacturing. This decision strengthens the industry’s sustainability efforts and long-term environmental stewardship,” TFI President and CEO Corey Rosenbusch says. 

The U.S. produces approximately 20 percent of the world’s phosphogypsum. In countries where reuse is practiced, such as for road building, construction material, fertilizer and landfill cover—up to 20 percent of annual phosphogypsum production is diverted from stacking to other uses. While the approval of TFI’s request does not mean that phosphogypsum will become widespread in road construction, it allows state and local governments to investigate the opportunity to use phosphogypsum in appropriate road construction projects.

Risk analyses conducted by TFI, and reviewed by the EPA, demonstrate that the proposed use of phosphogypsum in road construction is as protective of public health, in both the short- and long-term, as is disposal of phosphogypsum in a stack. TFI’s risk assessment and this approval reflect the most significant efforts made on the topic of alternate use for phosphogypsum since they early 1990s, the organizations state.

This approval sets limits and requirements to protect public health and requires public notice of phosphogypsum use in roads. To protect public and worker health, there are restrictions on the proportion of phosphogypsum in the mixture that can be used in a road project. The terms and conditions also impose restrictions on how and where phosphogypsum can be incorporated into the road design. For example, a road constructed with phosphogypsum may not be abandoned and used for other non-road purposes. Government agencies proposing to construct roads using phosphogypsum must still comply with other applicable laws and regulations, including use of appropriate technical standards and specifications.

More information is available online.