Today's industrial agriculture uses synthetic fertilizers consisting of phosphorus. Once mined from the earth, phosphate is sent to a fertilizer plant to create phosphoric acid which is used predominantly in fertilizer. The process creates radioactive waste and concentrates heavy metals.
To obtain phosphate ore, mining companies clear away vegetation, topsoil and wildlife from thousands of acres of rich habitat. A matrix of phosphate ore, sand, and clay is brought to a nearby plant where the phosphate ore is separated from sand and clay. The clay is sent to clay-settling areas, sometimes referred to as “slime ponds,” which are unable to revert back to normal biome, leaving the clay to remain in perpetuity and scarring the landscape indefinitely.
The phosphate ore is treated with sulfuric acid at a fertilizer plant to create phosphoric acid, a predominant component of fertilizer. This process, used in over 90% of fertilizer manufacturing, creates 30 million tons of radioactive waste each year called phosphogypsum. For every one ton of phosphoric acid produced, over five tons of phosphogypsum are created.
Phosphogypsum, too radioactive to be used, is stored in mountainous stacks, often referred to as "gypstacks," that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall.
One billion tons of phosphogypsum are stacked in Florida alone, though other states in the Southeast and West also have gypstacks. Gypstacks are prone to groundwater contamination, dike breeches, leakage, and sinkholes.