Fortunately for the United States, Central Florida is home to the largest known phosphate reserves in the world. Phosphate and its derivatives are essential to continuing life on Earth, based on phosphorus and related nutrients from nitrogen. It is safe to say, phosphate reserves located in the United States are critical to the economy and national security concerns as well.
Both the U.S. economy and safety depend on phosphate reserves in the U.S. and around the world. The United States is known to have over seventy percent of the world’s phosphate reserves. Florida reserves are over ninety percent of phosphate reserves found in the U.S. Basically; Central Florida is ground zero for phosphate mega-mining. Phosphate is needed for one’s health, but phosphate mining and fertilizer production are linked to severe illnesses and even death.
Historically, Florida’s phosphate industry has little if any oversight from state and federal level officials. Until recently, industry practices were overlooked or regarded as benign to Florida’s environmental health issues. Interestingly, the industry today is alleged to be responsible for the greatest threat to Florida’s environment, based on comments from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Phosphate companies have stripped mined central Florida for over 60 years which benefits local economies located near one of the many phosphate mining plants. The industry in central Florida employs hundreds of workers and seems to offer stability for one’s livelihood. From the outside looking in, it appears industry workers have employment longevity to support a comfortable lifestyle. Industry employs many good people and their jobs can be dirty, dusty, smelly, hazardous, and back breaking as well.
Florida’s phosphate industry workers seem to have stable incomes and can afford health, dental, and life insurance policies for themselves and their families. Now that health care is affordable, industry workers pay their premiums and begin seeing their doctors for illnesses, checkups, and prescription medicines. Phosphate mining workers now have medical histories and can track their health problems over time, in some cases, years of employment with the industry.
One may expect healthy industry workers due to continuous health care over time. However, statistically, research shows industry employees have higher than average adverse health effects, reportedly from exposure to phosphate mining and the production of fertilizers. The primary illnesses with industry workers are respiratory and esophageal health related. (1)
Health Threats To Phosphate Industry Workers Documented
Research results completed in the late 1980’s, statistically show increased adverse effects on industry workers including higher incidences of respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer and cancers related to the esophagus. Data indicates the longer one works for the phosphate industry; the greater one’s risk to become ill due to respiratory, esophageal, and radiation poisoning issues. This is called a “dose-response relationship” (2). Historically; the mortality rate for phosphate industry workers is much higher than Florida’s state average mortality rate for similar illnesses and ages. The research also considers similar habits such as smoking or chewing tobacco. The illnesses discussed here are related to respiratory, throat, and radiation exposure as well. (1) The research reflects phosphate industry workers employed for longer than eleven months.
Research indicates employees directly exposed to the process of producing fertilizer from phosphate are the industry workers most likely to display adverse effects concerning respiratory illnesses and diseases related to alpha and gamma radiation emissions. The emissions are based on uranium and radium existing in fertilizer production waste by-products. Research displays the further away one’s job is from the production of fertilizer; the less likely one will contract related illnesses. The statistics show a greater number of illnesses directly linked by one’s proximity to the manufacture of fertilizer from phosphate.
Florida’s phosphate industry offers employment stability for local economies adjacent to mining facilities. However, phosphate industry employees may be at risk for serious respiratory and esophageal illnesses due to their proximity to the production of fertilizer.