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Fertilizer

The Daily Tonic is a two- to five-minute read sharing science-backed health news and tips, all while getting you to crack a smile or even lol on occasion.

“Florida Man” Leaks Radioactive Waste Into Tampa Bay

I am not sure why, but it seems that Florida is often the butt of the joke as far as U.S. states go. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most crazy headlines of someone doing something… unusual… seem to be attributed to a “Florida man.” In this case, it was not a Florida man that was to blame for a recent wastewater disaster in the Tampa Bay area. That part was a joke. The part that isn’t a joke is the actual radioactive waste that leaked at Piney Point.

On March 26, the inch-thick plastic liner tore at a phosphate mine and fertilizer plant that’s been defunct since 2001, creating a leak of 11,000 gallons a minute into nearby waterways. The facility—one of more than two dozen in the state of Florida, houses stacks of phosphogypsum, a toxic, radioactive byproduct of the fertilizer production process. That’s right. Radioactive, toxic waste leaking into the bay at a rate of 11,000 gallons a minute. Scary, but what’s the connection to our health?

Well, aside from the fact that whatever is bad for our planet is indirectly bad for our own health, this disaster highlights one of the major reasons why fertilizer use in industrial agriculture is such a problem. Quick history lesson. Fertilizer use in the U.S. boomed after the Second World War. The U.S. had just built tons of factories to produce nitrogen for bombs and now that the war was over, the bomb market just wasn’t as hot. So being the smart, entrepreneurial country we are, we just made an easy pivot and turned those factories into fertilizer factories. Bombs need nitrogen, but so does soil. Perfect solution?

Not really. Synthetic fertilizer is terrible for soil health and as the Florida wastewater disaster highlighted, it produces incredibly dangerous byproducts that have the potential for serious ecological harm. Southern states like Florida and Louisiana are home to many of these fertilizer plants that sit there accumulating toxic waste in often precarious ways as the industry looks to cut costs and maximize profits.

Industrial agriculture is a big problem. Whether it is the synthetic fertilizer-dependent monoculture crops used in many vegan products like soy, corn, and wheat, or the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) used to raise conventional meat products, both industries are one and the same. Blindly chasing profits without regard for our health or the wellbeing of the planet.

Just this month, hundreds of thousands of gallons of manure spilled from a pig CAFO into a pair of northwest Iowa creeks. It isn’t about eating meat or not eating meat. It is about choosing not to support the industrial food system. The system raising conventional pork and the GMO soy for Impossible meat burgers is one and the same.

The actual solution? Eat local and shop regenerative. Regenerative farms don’t need synthetic fertilizer because they put nitrogen back into the soil as nature intended—with cover crops (a variety of plants) and animal impact. They also aren’t leaking thousands of gallons of manure into local waterways.