News Feature | March 14, 2017

Radioactive Wastewater Now A Federal Problem

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

epa reg new

The U.S. EPA stepped in last month to treat radioactive wastewater at a shuttered factory in Mississippi.

The federal takeover followed bankruptcy by the Mississippi Phosphates Corporation. Around $12 million was set aside to treat the wastewater at the shuttered factory site, but when that money dried up, the wastewater became the federal government’s problem, according to The Birmingham News. The factory used phosphate rocks to produce fertilizer and sulfuric acid.

“Currently, wastewater treatment is occurring at a rate of approximately 2,000,000 gallons per day,” according to the EPA.

The wastewater undergoing treatment at the plant flows from moderately radioactive gypsum stored in huge piles known as gypstacks, according to The Birmingham News.

“Rain water accumulates in a lake on top of the pile. Think of it like a mound of mashed potatoes with a puddle of gravy in the middle. The only problem is the water on top of the pile is of an exceptionally low Ph and lethal to anything it touches. The wastewater contains a soup of contaminants - ranging from heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and lead, to radioactive uranium and radium,” the report said.

How steep is the challenge?

“EPA officials report there are 700 million gallons of contaminated wastewater on the site. The Mercedes Superdome in New Orleans would hold 935 million gallons,” the report said.

The EPA held a meeting last week to update residents on its progress cleaning up the site, according to The Sun Herald. The government is pouring considerable resources into this wastewater treatment project.

“It costs about $1 million a month to maintain the shuttered plant and grounds because so much polluted water is generated there,” The Sun Herald reported.

The ultimate plan is to sell the site so it is no longer the government’s problem.

“Since manufacturing ceased at Mississippi Phosphates, the EPA’s Region 4 in Atlanta, the U.S. Department of Justice and the DEQ have worked with multiple parties to negotiate a sale of the property in hopes of finding a beneficial reuse of the plant. The measures taken by EPA are to maintain environmental stability at the plant site during negotiations,” the report said.

Image credit: "EPA," © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: