Pascagoula – An aerial map of the Stennis Industrial Park shows that a large area is taken up with a mountain of white material called phosphogypsum, a byproduct of Mississippi Phosphates` fertilizer-making process.
Recently Mississippi Phosphates, a division of Mississippi Chemical, was given approval to build a new 140-foot-tall gypsum storage facility on a site of more than 500 acres located across the road from the present gypsum pile. Sale of land at the site of the old Jackson County airport for the new gypsum pile took up most of the space remaining for development at the industrial park.
But Jackson County officials are now hoping that a company`s proposal to manufacture railroad ties from phosphogypsum and recycled plastic will prevent the need to store large quantities of gypsum at the new storage stack at the industrial park.
“We are excited about the potential of utilizing phosphogypsum for a useful product,” said Charles Persons, president of the Jackson County Port Authority.
Polysum Inc. wants to use 13.6 acres of land at the Stennis Industrial Park for a facility that would manufacture railroad ties, fence posts and utility poles out of gypsum and recycled plastic. The purchase price for the property is $435,400.
The property is a portion of the land recently repurchased by the county from OSCO-Laidlaw, which had planned a hazardous waste treatment plant at the site. OSCO-Laidlaw withdrew its application for a permit for the facility in late 1997 after encountering strong public opposition. The property was sold back to the county earlier this summer.
G. Earl Parker, president of Polysum, said the composite products that his company wants to produce would be beneficial in a number of ways.
“First, we have the benefit of reducing the amount of waste phosphogypsum being stored at the Stennis Industrial Park,” Parker said. “Secondly, we think the product is going to be superior to the wooden crossties in both strength and durability. And, finally, from the environmental point of view, using these two waste products to manufacture railroad crossties, which are themselves recyclable, would alleviate some of the need to cut forests for railroad ties. It would also eliminate the ground and water pollution that is associated with preservatives used in treating wood.”
Another potential benefit would be reducing pollution from the gypsum pile entering Bayou Casotte. Rainwater runoff from the gypsum pile contains phosphorus, ammonia nitrogen, fluoride and suspended solids.
Parker said there is a vast market for crossties in the U.S. alone with an estimated 12 million crossties replaced each year. “And furthermore, the composite material will be useful in such products as utility poles, fence posts and pilings,” Parker said.
Currently the use of phosphogypsum in products is not allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Parker said Polysum has an application pending before EPA to allow use of the fertilizer byproduct in producing railroad ties.
“EPA`s concern is that radon gas, which is emitted from the phosphogypsum, might accumulate in improperly ventilated structures,” Parker said. “By limiting our products to those which are used outdoor, we believe we will be able to satisfy EPA`s concerns on that point.”