Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 20, 2016

Contact:  Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190,
Dennis Mader, (863) 494-4687,
Glenn Compton, (941) 966-6256,
Justin Bloom, (941) 275-2922,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Floridians, Habitat From More Than 50,000 Acres of Destructive Phosphate Strip Mining

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Four conservation organizations launched a lawsuit today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for authorizing more than 50,000 acres of phosphate mining in central Florida that would irretrievably damage habitat for imperiled species, threaten water quality and forever change Florida’s landscape. The strip-mining would destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and valuable habitat for threatened species like the eastern indigo snake, crested caracara and Florida panther, and would worsen Florida’s growing phosphogypsum problem.

“Phosphate mining violently disfigures the environment, destroying habitat, altering hydrology and displacing wildlife,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The New Wales gypstack sinkhole is a painful reminder that we’ve already lost so much to this industry.”

Phosphate is removed from the earth via strip-mining, whereby tens of thousands of acres are scraped away, eliminating the natural landscape and habitat to depths of up to 80 feet below the surface. Once the phosphoric ore is separated from the clay and the sand, it is sent to a nearby fertilizer plant where the application of sulfuric acid turns it into phosphoric acid.

The result of this process is thousands of acres of scarred Florida habitat and millions of tons of phosphogypsum, the radioactive byproduct of making fertilizer, piled around the state. Florida is home to the world’s largest phosphate mine at 100,000 acres, and houses 1 billion tons of radioactive phosphogypsum. The phosphogypsum stacks are prone to sinkholes; 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater emptied into the Floridan aquifer this September when a sinkhole opened in a phosphogypsum stack in Mulberry.

“The phosphate mining industry is outdated and destructive and has gone virtually unchallenged for generations because it has shrouded itself in misleading advertising and bought influence in the communities where it mines and processes phosphorous,” said Dennis Mader, executive director of People for Protecting Peace River. “Phosphate mining should end now because the industry has proven time and time again that it is incapable of containing the hazardous waste it generates.”

“Phosphate mining leaves behind a legacy of radioactive toxic slime ponds and leaky phosphogypsum stacks.” said Glenn Compton, executive director of ManaSota-88. “Expansion is not worth further exposure to this environmental nightmare.”

“We’re taking a stand against the continued reckless expansion of phosphate mining,” said Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “The industry has gamed the system time and again to make incredible profits by raping the land, mishandling hazardous waste, and leaving behind a toxic moonscape and polluted aquifer.”

The notice letter cites violations of the Endangered Species Act in the Corps’ approval of more than 50,000 acres of phosphate mining. The conservation groups that issued today’s notice letter are the Center, ManaSota-88, People for Protecting Peace River and Suncoast Waterkeeper. The groups intend to file suit in 60 days if the Corps and Service have not taken steps to remedy the violations.

Florida phosphate mining
New Wales sinkhole
Photos of phosphate mining and phosphate stack sinkhole courtesy Center for Biological Diversity. Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases