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Monsanto's Phosphate Operation

Life sciences company will process phosphorus for Roundup herbicide from a new mine in Idaho

by Melody Voith
August 17, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 33

Monsanto plans to dig deep for profits by opening a new phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho. The company wants to process the phosphate ore into elemental phosphorus, which it uses to make its Roundup-brand glyphosate herbicide. The operation would take the place of Monsanto’s nearly tapped-out South Rasmussen Ridge mine.

In recent years, Monsanto has transformed itself into a life sciences company focused on enhanced seed traits, but the firm continues to rely on Roundup. Executives recently told investors that the company will make $1 billion in annual gross profits from the product through 2012 (C&EN, July 20, page 30).

The new mine would be on public land administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. BLM must approve the project and is distributing a draft Environmental Impact Statement for public review.

Phosphate has been mined in southeastern Idaho since 1907, according to BLM. The phosphate formation also contains large quantities of selenium, which over decades of mining has polluted soils and groundwater.

Monsanto has created a detailed website describing its Idaho mining operations and promoting its reclamation efforts. The company says the new mine will feature a laminated geosynthetic clay liner for selenium-bearing waste rock that is “essentially impervious to water.”

Not everyone is convinced the liner will work. “We’re really going to scrutinize the impact statement,” says Marv Hoyt of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, an environmental advocacy group. “They may not have it figured out yet.” Hoyt points out that the site sits on the edge of the Blackfoot River, an important habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout that is already polluted with selenium.


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