The fact that there are serious issues with the food supply is no longer a secret. There is evidence that toxicity levels in the food supply are rising, and that conventional agriculture has become a leading cause of environmental pollution and destruction. Yet, for change to happen, more people will need to vote with their pocketbook, seeking organically and regeneratively grown produce and pasture-raised, locally sourced meat.
Although the greatest concern comes from processed foods, even whole plant and animal foods can be contaminated. Glyphosate is a popular herbicide commonly sprayed on soybeans, coffee, whole grains and leafy vegetables. The chemical limits a plant's ability to absorb micronutrients from the soil, creating a deficiency of vital manganese in the food supply.
The scale of glyphosate use is unprecedented, and scientists have not yet reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the far-reaching environmental and human health effects it has. The chemical is so pervasive that researchers have stated, “In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use.”1
In January 2020, research published in Environmental Pollution found measurable glyphosate in the urine of infants and children and identified kidney injury biomarkers.2 As the researchers noted:3
“There is growing evidence linking glyphosate exposure with the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin in farm workers in Central America, Sri Lanka and central India.”
Despite evidence that glyphosate is detrimental to human and environmental health, is likely a driving factor in antibiotic resistance and shifting microbial composition of the soil,4 the herbicide continues to be applied across the world and is the “most widely used herbicide in history.”5One factor in environmental destruction is phosphate mining, a core ingredient in glyphosate and fertilizers.
Phosphate Mining Funneled to Fertilizer and Glyphosate
The news media have recently covered problems with Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate. Lawsuits alleging the products cause cancer are pending in state and federal courts, and glyphosate has a history of producing species of superweeds resistant to the effects of the herbicide.6
The production of glyphosate triggers just as many issues with environmental damage as its use. One of the main ingredients is phosphorus, which is produced by extracting it from phosphate ore7 mined in Florida and Idaho. In fact, 80% of the ore is mined in Florida, called the “phosphate capital of the world.”8
The mining and processing of the ore comes at a significant cost to the state. Phosphate ore is chemically treated to create phosphoric acid. This is in large part a main component to fertilizer. The processing produces large amounts of phosphogypsum, which is a radioactive waste product. The Guardian9 reports the ratio is 5-to-1. In other words, there are 5 tons of phosphogypsum waste for every 1 ton of fertilizer produced.
The waste product is stored in large piles that can measure hundreds of feet in height and hundreds of acres across. At the top of these "gyp stacks" is a huge waste lagoon that contains highly acidic wastewater contaminated with radioactive heavy metals. These lagoons are lined with plastic to prevent the wastewater from seeping into the surrounding groundwater.10
It was the Piney Point phosphate plant in Florida that was recently in the news when one of the lagoons began leaking dangerous wastewater. In response to the leak, officials issued evacuation orders for the estimated 316 homes in the area as they pumped millions of gallons of contaminated water from the lagoon directly into Tampa Bay.11
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimated in early April 2021 they had moved 165 million gallons into the channel at Port Manatee. The lagoon originally held 480 million gallons, which threatened to break the gyp stack apart as it leaked.
Experts estimated this could have created a 20-foot wall of contaminated water.12 The state was quick to assure the residents that the water from the great lagoon was not currently radioactive.13 The radioactive material is in the phosphogypsum stack, the land surrounding the millions of gallons of wastewater over which any leakage and overflow travels.
Wastewater Threatens Florida Gulf Water
Although the evacuation order ended, the lagoon still contained 300 million gallons of leaking wastewater. So, while experts didn’t believe the gyp stack was in immediate danger of crumbling and sending millions of gallons of contaminated water into the surrounding community, the problem was far from over.
Pumps continued to drain the lagoon at a rate of 23,500 gallons per minute after the evacuation order was lifted.14 In addition to the release into Tampa Bay, another phosphate mining company moved water from Piney Point to their facility. Water from the breach in the wall around the lagoon at Piney Point was also stored in a separate lagoon at Piney Point.
In other words, experts scrambled to avert a dangerous threat to the environment, drinking water and surrounding homes that likely should not have existed in the first place. The sole purpose of phosphate mining is to provide phosphorus for fertilizer companies15 and for the manufacture of glyphosate, which contains 18.3% phosphorus by mass.16
It may ultimately be impossible to determine whether the finished product or sourcing the material caused more damage to human health and the environment. What is certain is the financial gain enjoyed by the agrochemical industry. The global fertilizer market was worth $83.5 billion in 202017 and estimated to grow 1.69% from 2020 to 2027. This means the industry may be worth more than $93.9 billion by 2027.
In 2015 Monsanto posted earnings of $4.7 million for the sale of glyphosate and $10.2 million for the sale of Roundup Ready seeds and the sale of genetic traits.18 Bayer bought the rights to Roundup from Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion.19
Despite billions of dollars Bayer is paying to resolve lawsuits over Roundup cancer claims,20 the global glyphosate market is estimated to reach $13.31 billion by 2027,21 which is a phenomenal growth increase from the $4.7 million posted by Monsanto in 2015.
The wastewater from Piney Point tests high in nitrogen and phosphorus and is being unceremoniously dumped into Tampa Bay where experts fear it will trigger significant algal blooms, yet another devastation to the environment and fishing industry.22
There are two other gyp stacks with lagoons at Piney Point. Officials believe that an unaddressed breach could result in even greater damage since the water in those lagoons are more toxic and acidic than in the lagoon that leaked. Glen Compton from ManaSota-88, a nonprofit environmental group, told a reporter from The Guardian that should either of those two stacks fail:23
“… we’d expect to see major impacts to Bishop Harbor, which is one of the prettiest places in the state of Florida. [The harbor] would be totally annihilated. It is really not too strong a term to use.”