South Africa: Environmental problems of Foskor’s phosphogypsum waste

The majority owned by the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation, Foskor phosphoric acid and fertilizer maker has some environmental problems.

In the 2011, a site inspection undertaken by the Department of Water Affairs, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development, as well as Foskor personnel revealed that the Foskor outlet pipe was discharging contaminated water into the pan. Water sample results further indicated non-compliance with all parameters required by the National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998).

The factory has been pumping millions of tonnes of phosphogypsum (PG) and other waste into the sea off Richards Bay for nearly 35 years. It also has a large land dump that holds about 15 million tonnes of phosphogypsum. The company is trying to find a joint venture partner to turn the waste into cheap gypsum boards, cement and panels to build low-cost homes. The problem to tackle is that the waste contains radioactive materials such as uranium and thorium.

Large volumes of phosphogypsum have been generated in several parts of the planet and the phosphates industry has promoted using this waste as building or roadfill material or fertilizer. PG is produced when rock phosphate is treated with sulphuric acid. For every tonne of phosacid produced, the industry generates five tonnes of phosphogypsum, a radioactive material the U.S. Environmental Agency considers hazardous waste. The US Environmental Protection Agency banned the reuse of the waste in 1989. The ruling was relaxed in 1992 to allow its use as a fertilizer, but only if the level of radiation was lower than 10 picocuries to a gram. The latest report of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) notes that the toxicity of Foskor gypsum and fluoride effluent exceeds the original pipeline dilution specifications. Several CSIR studies have flagged Foskor waste as a problem, and the company has acknowledged that dumping large volumes of phosphogypsum in the sea is “not environmentally sustainable”.

%d bloggers like this: