Energy & Environment

EPA allows use of radioactive material in some road construction

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved for use in government road construction projects a substance that has been regulated due to radioactivity. 

Phosphogypsum, a waste product that comes from the production of phosphate fertilizer, will be allowed to be used in government road construction, the EPA announced Wednesday.

The material is currently kept in large “stacks” that are located in 13 states, primarily in the Southeast. That is also where most of the phosphogypsum roads would be built, as the group that requested the approval told EPA that it would be “uneconomical” to transport it farther than 200 miles from the stacks, according to the agency. 

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement that allowing the material to be reused “reduces environmental waste and protects public health.” 

“The approval of this request means that phosphogypsum … can now be put to productive use rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” he said. 

Environmentalists disagreed, saying that using the radioactive material in this way can pose health risks. 

“You now have the potential exposure to something that we, in all other scenarios, treat as radioactive hazardous waste,” said Jacki Lopez, The Center for Biological Diversity’s Florida director and senior attorney.  

In 1992, the EPA banned the use of phosphogypsum in road construction, raising concerns about people potentially living in a house on land where phosphogypsum roads once existed. 

The agency now said that the approval came at the request of The Fertilizer Institute, which advocates for the fertilizer industry. 

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