Deerfield Beach asphalt plant worries neighbors, raises concerns about recycling radioactive waste 

A radioactive gypstack in New Wales. Photo: Sierra Club

By Noreen Marcus,

Deerfield Beach residents are opposed to reopening a dormant asphalt plant that’s alarmingly close, they say, to Century Village and a gated community called Independence Bay.

The opponents say toxic emissions from the plant will endanger public health. They expect property values to plummet.

And they may not know it, but they appear now to be part of a high-stakes shell game politicians are playing on behalf of one of the state’s major industrial landowners, Republican donors and polluters.

On June 29, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law what critics have called the “radioactive road” bill. The law directs the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to recycle radioactive fertilizer waste into corporate profits by repurposing the large, unsightly stacks of gypsum, known as “gypstacks” that are scattered around the state.

Gypstacks are the waste from processing phosphate rock to make fertilizer. The rock is dissolved in an acidic solution to remove the phosphate. The waste that’s left behind, phosphogypsum, contains the naturally-occurring uranium found in phosphate rock.

FDOT will repurpose the phosphogypsum into roadway construction material. In this way the phosphate industry will avoid some regulation, save millions now spent on gypstack safety, and cultivate a whole new market: recycled asphalt made with radioactive fertilizer waste.


Asphalt producers and other suppliers will make money but the biggest beneficiary will be The Mosaic Company, a Tampa-based, Fortune 500 company (NYSE: MOS) that dominates Florida’s phosphate industry. The company reportedly owns 200,000 acres in Central Florida alone.

More to the point, Mosaic lobbies zealously and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2022 to Republican DeSantis, Republican politicians and conservative causes, and a phosphate industry political action committee. Mosaic’s chumminess with certain politicians came to light in 2016, when Florida Bulldog revealed then-Gov. Rick Scott was a shareholder.


At the time, Mosaic had recently signed a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pay nearly $2 billion to settle charges that its plants in Florida and Louisiana had improperly handled 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste. This included phosphogypsum, the radioactive fertilizer refuse that’s piled into gypstacks.

Also at that time, Mosaic came under fire because its Central Florida fertilizer plant had spewed 215 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into an aquifer that provides millions of Floridians with drinking water.

Mosaic poured almost $500,000 into GOP pols’ campaigns shortly before legislators passed the “radioactive road” bill last year, according to journalist Jason Garcia’s newsletter and podcast Seeking Rents. Apparently, the company got what it paid for.

After a demonstration period ends April 1, the state transportation department will construct roads using phosphogypsum, the radioactive fertilizer waste that caused Mosaic a lot of expensive trouble almost a decade ago.

Ragan Whitlock Photo: WMNF radio, Tampa

“I view the [radioactive road] law as a pretext to make people more comfortable with what the phosphate industry intends to do,” said Ragan Whitlock, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The nonprofit led a squad of environmental groups in a failed bid to convince DeSantis to veto the bill.

Glenn Compton monitors an asphalt plant in Sarasota, where he lives. His environmental nonprofit, ManaSota-88, was among the groups that lobbied against the radioactive road law because it has everything to do with phosphogypsum.

“It’s not a very good product to use for anything,” Compton said. “The air quality of the plant is the main concern.” The Sarasota plant is near a high school; an ongoing study will measure health impacts on students.


Residents’ complaints about the Deerfield asphalt plant are more fact-based than typical NIMBY (not in my backyard) rants. For one example, cue the predictable outcry whenever a halfway house for ex-offenders tries to open near a middle-class enclave.

Donald and Irene Parker are so worried about the plant, they’re moving to Boca Raton. They anticipate steep losses when they sell the Independence Bay condo they bought for $330,000 only 13 months ago.

Donald and Irene Parker

They say they’re not alone – almost two dozen neighbors are selling their homes. The usual turnover in the 800-unit single-family community comprising 11 neighborhoods is no more than two or three listings at a time.

‘We’re devastated,” said Irene Parker, an activist against timeshare fraud. “This was supposed to be our last move.”

Already, one Deerfield Beach neighbor is the infamous “Mount Trashmore” landfill in unincorporated northern Broward County. And the multi-year 10th Street Connector Project is clogging main Deerfield roads between I-95 and the Sawgrass Expressway.

“I feel bad enough about the connector project. Let that be it. I don’t want any more,” said a Century Village resident, a plant opponent who spoke anonymously out of fear that city officials would retaliate against a known troublemaker.


An activist used “stop the stink” as a rallying cry that galvanized some residents to oppose the asphalt plant — and alerted Florida Bulldog to the protest. The activist remains undercover. “Nobody knows who it is,” Donald Parker said.

He doesn’t claim to be an expert on the dangers of asphalt production, but Parker is a retired pharmaceutical evaluator with a PhD in biochemistry.

“Don has the knowledge of what these emissions from asphalt plants are. No one else understands the harm,” said Irene Parker.

And he credits research from the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. It shows that asphalt processing plants slash real estate values by about 50 percent when nearby residents develop high blood pressure, sinus problems, severe headaches and other ills.

Donald Parker said most Independence Bay residents assume that because the owner has a permit to build the plant and presumably will comply with EPA restrictions, “everything will be wonderful. I know it won’t be wonderful.”


Even if Deerfield Beach commissioners wanted to stop the owner, Ryan Inc. Southern, from expanding or reopening the plant, they probably couldn’t. Ryan seems to do everything by the book and has already started construction at the site on Powerline Road.

Ryan is piggybacking on zoning granted to Hardrives Inc., the previous plant owner, but that’s allowed. And without a zoning change, there was no legal duty to notify nearby residents that a larger plant on a much bigger, seven-acre site would be starting up after decades of inactivity.

The Parkers and others said that if it hadn’t been for the “stop the stink” outcry, they wouldn’t have known about the plant reopening.

“We’re screwed,” Irene Parker said.

Ryan CFO Mike Schipper, identified as the company spokesman, did not respond to a phone message from Florida Bulldog.

Eric Power, Deerfield Beach’s point person for zoning, told the Parkers that if the property were proposed for a new asphalt plant, “it would not be permitted” – but only because of a technical glitch that’s been corrected, he added in an email to Florida Bulldog.

He said the city determined the plant’s equipment “was being upgraded with more technologically advanced equipment that would better address noise and odors.”


Asked if city leaders are concerned about the plant producing asphalt with radioactive waste, Power said Ryan hasn’t indicated it’s using phosphogypsum “and is not permitted to do so.”

“It is my understanding additional regulations may have to be created by the State of Florida before any asphalt plant in the State is legally authorized to use the material … and/or its use would need to be in accordance with the conditions of the U.S. EPA approval for the use,” Power wrote in response to emailed questions.

Gypstacks may be out of sight in South Florida, but they’re not out of mind to Compton, the Sarasota environmental activist.

The phosphate industry says it doesn’t use phosphogypsum in any plant that’s more than 100 miles away from a gypstack, he said. The closest one to Deerfield Beach is 159 miles away in Mulberry, according to data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

But neither that fact nor the regulatory hurdles Power mentioned eases Compton’s concerns about phosphogypsum use at the Deerfield asphalt plant or about the phosphate industry.

“They’re gonna get rid of their waste product in the most economical way they can. So if it’s economically feasible for them to transport it across the state, they will,” he said.

In the end a dangerous pollutant will be spread out and concealed in roadways all over the state, he said. “Where it ends up won’t be regulated. Welcome to Florida.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • So frightening how Florida residents are at the mercy of politicians and businesses looking to make a profit and sidestep the EPA guidelines. Wishing these residents luck in their fight for clean air!

  • Thank you, Bulldog, for everything that you do to keep residents INFORMED!!! It is unfortunate that our GOP legislators care little for their constituents…only their wealthiest donors. For shame.

  • I’m concerned about what appears to be bipartisan support for this effort with none of the hard questions being asked. All we have been told is how aesthetically pleasing it will look. I hope all residents will ask questions of our commissioners and others we have elected to represent us, “Not my jurisdiction “ is not an acceptable reply.

  • How close is it?

  • Why not push for them to use more Echo?Friendly materials to build a road such as recycled glass or plastic products.Some places are even using a recycled tires to build their roads.

  • The asphalt plant mentioned in your article replaced an asphalt plant that had operated safely at the site since the 1970s. That plant never had a violation or complaint about health risks, emissions, smell, contamination, wastewater, or decreased property values.

    The Ryan Companies purchased the property to modernize the structure using the latest technology. The updated plant will use less energy, reduce pollution, be quieter and cleaner. By using 30% to 40% recycled asphalt, energy consumption will be reduced along with other environmental benefits.

    The operators have guaranteed there will be no radioactive waste or toxic emissions. Phosphogypsum will not be added or used.

    Read a letter to Deerfield Beach residents from Wills Ryan, Chairman, The Ryan Companies.

leave a comment