June is in the air and LGBTQII+ Pride abounds in the media. Most of it is about how “acceptable” it is to be us now— you can be “colorful” or a bit “edgy” so long as ultimately you act “just like everyone else” and don’t try to undermine the dominant cultural norms. Indeed, now it’s acceptable for us to have our own nuclear families with just as many dysfunctional family dynamics as anyone else. As my friend Deeg reminded me we used to say, “nuclear families are the most dangerous place.”
Truthfully, reporting on environmental and social disasters can get depressing. I sometimes ask myself why can’t I just write about happy things like butterflies and bunnies? Well, the honey bees are in big trouble and so are some of the bunnies like pygmy rabbits … maybe that’s why fictional beings like unicorns have become so popular? But narwhals which are the prototype for the “unicorn” are also in trouble with a warming artic. OK back to our everyday disasters.
Those of you in Florida may have heard of a phosphogypsum “stack” (one started collapsing recently near Tampa) but to most people it’s a “new” type of disaster. Phosphogypsum is a waste product from mining and processing phosphorus for fertilizers. The process creates a lot of waste – 5 tons of waste for each ton of fertilizer on average. And it’s radioactive waste with concentrated heavy metals including Radium-226 which has a 1,600-year radioactive decay half-life, and significant amounts of sulfur, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, and/or zinc. It’s waste with nowhere to go. Billions of tons are stored in mountainous stacks, often referred to as “gypstacks,” that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall—in Florida, Louisiana and other states across the country.
Well here is an idea, let’s use it in road construction! In 1992 EPA said it was too radioactive for use in construction of roads or elsewhere, because using it on roads or any other construction will expose workers, the environment and the general public to otherwise avoidable radiation and toxic chemicals. But in 2020 the Trump EPA suddenly found road use is fine! The October 2020 decision was a gift to the fertilizer industry which is liable for all that waste. The decision was challenged in court but is in effect now.
And in Sri Lanka a slow-speed disaster is underway. caused by a sinking cargo ship loaded with chemicals that had been burning for 12 days. Efforts to tow the ship into deeper water failed and unsurprisingly a fishing ban was put in place and consumers fear chemical contamination, a very rational fear I’d say. On the good news front (sort of) during the covid pandemic when the zoos in Sri Lanka were closed to visitors, births among animals rose 25%. I guess that shows that zoos without people staring at the animals are better than zoos with them? I’m not a fan of zoos in either case.
Have a safe anti-nuclear Pride!