Phosphogypsum refers to the calcium sulfate hydrate formed as a by-product of the production of fertilizer from phosphate rock. It is mainly composed of gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O). Although gypsum is a widely used material in the construction industry, phosphogypsum is usually not used, but is stored indefinitely because of its weak radioactivity. The long-range storage is controversial.
- Ca5(PO4)3X + 5 H2SO4 + 10 H2O → 3 H3PO4 + 5 (CaSO4 · 2 H2O) + HX
- where X may include OH, F, Cl, or Br
Phosphogypsum is radioactive due to the presence of naturally occurring uranium and thorium, and their daughter isotopes radium, radon, polonium, etc. Marine-deposited phosphate typically has a higher level of radioactivity than igneous phosphate deposits, because uranium is present in seawater. Phosphogypsum also can contain high levels of cadmium.
In the United States
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has banned most applications of phosphogypsum having a 226Ra concentration of greater than 10 picocurie/gram (0.4 Bq/g). As a result, phosphogypsum which exceeds this limit is stored in large stacks.
Central Florida has a large quantity of phosphate deposits, particularly in the Bone Valley region. However, the marine-deposited phosphate ore from central Florida is weakly radioactive, and as such, the phosphogypsum by-product (in which the radionuclides are somewhat concentrated) is too radioactive to be used for most applications. As a result, there are about 1 billion tons of phosphogypsum stacked in 25 stacks in Florida (22 are in central Florida) and about 30 million new tons are generated each year.
Various applications have been proposed for using phosphogypsum, including using it as material for: