Leaks of wastewater at a former phosphate mine prompted evacuation orders and a state of emergency near Tampa recently amid fears that a pile of radioactive mine tailings could collapse. Believe it or not, U.S. President Joe Biden should have seen an opportunity wrapped in this crisis.
That’s because cleaning up the vast and neglected phosphogypsum stacks that dot Florida and other parts of the southeastern U.S. could help solve U.S. dependence on imported critical materials, all while removing the looming threat of environmental disaster from local residents.
Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of producing fertilizer from phosphate rock, with more than five metric tons produced for every ton of useful phosphoric acid. It’s worthless in its raw form thanks to concentrations of uranium, radium and other heavy metals that make it too radioactive for use as a soil improver or construction material — purposes for which it would otherwise be well-suited.
Those aren’t the only scarce metals that can be found in phosphate tailings, however. Rare earths are a suite of elements crucial to high-tech applications such as strong magnets and lasers that are the subject of ongoing worries in Washington D.C., thanks to China’s stranglehold on much of the world’s supply.
They’re present in concentrations of around 0.2% in Florida’s phosphogypsum, according to one 2017 analysis by a Chinese-U.S. study team. With about 1 billion tons in the stacks, that represents more than 2 million tons of rare earths, enough to meet global demand for a decade.
For the rest of this article: https://www.bloombergquint.com/gadfly/florida-toxic-waste-emergency-could-help-biden-win-rare-earths-fight-with-china