PASCAGOULA , MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Phosphates Corporation site is a former diammonium phosphate fertilizer plant that began operating in the 1950s.
In 2014, the facility went bankrupt leaving more than 700 million gallons of acidic, nutrient-rich wastewater stored at the facility.
If waste is improperly discharged, it can cause algal blooms, killing fish and other marine life. The Environmental Protection Agency took control over the wastewater treatment in 2017 when the property owners ran out of funds.
When rain falls over the Mississippi Phosphates site, it creates contaminated water that poses a threat to nearby water systems and has to be carefully disposed of. According to the site’s project manager, it’s a tedious and costly process.
“We’ve spent roughly $34 million to date treating water here,” said Craig Zeller, project manager with the EPA.
Zeller said the agency is a few years away from completely covering the stacks. They are working in phases.
“Behind me this is the west slope. We’re calling this one phase 1-A and to the right is phase 1-B. That’s where we’re going to move next,” he said pointing out the slopes
The typical cap systems that the EPA uses in landfills across the United States consists of some kind of liner material that gets covered with two feet of dirt.
Zeller said this one is different.
“It’s a two-part liner system, which is a 50 millimeter liner on the underneath part. Pretty typical that’s welded and seamed together," he said.
On top of that will be a geosynthetic engineered turf material that will be back filled with sand to keep it weighed down. That way, in the event of extreme weather, it doesn’t float or blow in the breeze. It’s also cost effective and efficient.
“The artificial turf product saves time on the installation and eliminates about 43,000 trucks that would have to be used to haul in the dirt, thus reducing the fossil fuel imprint and saves $6 million long term," Zeller said.
Zeller said that there’s no chance of even trying to re-use the gypsum for fertilizer or drywall. It has radium in it, making it radioactive.