FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 9, 2021
Contact: Shannon Ansley, 208-220-2851; Doug Paddock, 208-991-4451
Late Wednesday, House Bill 239 passed the Idaho Legislature. If signed into law, House Bill 239 would repeal the authority of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to create environmental and public health standards for toxic, radioactive phosphogypsum waste stacks (gypstacks) and process wastewater (stored in ponds on top of the gypstacks) generated from the production of phosphorous fertilizer and remove the requirement for the industry that produces phosphorous fertilizer to submit a groundwater monitoring plan detailing how they will ensure groundwater and surface water are not polluted.
We are seeing the devastating effects of unregulated phosphogypsum stacks first-hand in national news. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Manatee County last Saturday after a breach was detected in the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack waste pond requiring the evacuation of hundreds of households in danger of a potential flood. In an effort to stop the collapse, contaminated wastewater from the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack pond is being pumped directly into Tampa Bay which could result in a catastrophic environmental disaster from the nitrogen and phosphorus rich wastewater.
“The Pocatello and Chubbuck communities must be aware that the Simplot phosphogypsum stack system (and wastewater ponds that sit on top of the stack) is just as vulnerable to failure as the recent disastrous failure and contaminated wastewater release at the Piney Point gypstack in Florida. And, with the recent approval to expand the Simplot gypstack and waste ponds by the Bureau of Land Management by swapping federal land for Simplot’s benefit, there will be more potential exposure and risk to the public, the local infrastructure, Tribal lands, and the Portneuf River. Our legislature is asleep at the wheel, passing a bill that loosens regulation on our ‘sacred’ fertilizer producers in Idaho” said Shannon Ansley, Pocatello resident and member of the Portneuf Resource Council, a group working to protect the Portneuf River watershed.
Phosphogypsum is the waste from processing phosphate ore into phosphoric acid which is predominantly used in fertilizer. In Idaho, it is produced at the Itafos Conda plant near Soda Springs and at the Simplot Don Plant near Pocatello. Phosphogypsum and process wastewater contains carcinogens, heavy metals, and radionuclides that are leachable and have been released into groundwater and surface water from the Don Plant at the Eastern Michaud Flats Superfund Site. Additionally, radionuclides and toxic heavy metals can be spread through the air through dust events.
In 2020, the Idaho legislature directed the IDEQ to create rules regulating the design and construction of new phosphogypsum stacks and required the operators to develop a groundwater monitoring plan. Not satisfied with the proposal, the Idaho Mining Association sidestepped the IDEQ by bringing a bill to repeal the department’s authority to create these rules and remove the requirement to develop a groundwater monitoring plan for new gypstacks.
House Bill 239 is sponsored by Representative Marc Gibbs (R-Grace) and Senator Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs). It now heads to the Governor’s Office for his consideration.
The Idaho Organization of Resource Councils empowers people to improve the well-being of their communities, sustain family farms and ranches, transform local food systems, promote clean energy, and advocate for responsible stewardship of Idaho’s natural resources.