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©John R. Turner

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Out and About with Word and Image of Vermont

Florida's Phosphate Mines
A not-edifying feature of Florida not many tourists see are the the huge phosphate mines that stretch for miles across a region forty miles southeast of Tampa. An area that once was made up of orange groves and cattle ranches has been ripped apart by the phosphate companies. After acreage has been gouged by the huge excavation cranes it's useless for any other purpose until it has been restored.
I think there are environmental laws now that require companies to smooth the land out after they've mined it. But they have been passed only recently and they don't apply to the mountains of phosphate waste created in the past. These, in many instances, are staggeringly massive and turn long stretches of fertile land into desert. The liquid runoff from the mining operation gushes out of the artificial mountainsides to trickle down into the ground water. There are now laws regulating its dispersal, but if you go to the mine just to the west of Ft. Meade you can easily see large streams flowing incessantly out of the pile. I don't know that we have firm figures to tell us what sicknesses are caused by phosphate fumes and runoff. But the talk among local residents says that there are unusually high rates of cancer among mine workers. Phosphate is a material used in many products, most notably in soap and fertilizer. I suppose it's needed for a modern economy. But I think it should have been extracted from this Florida land far more carefully than it has been.