From its opening in 1949, the FMC plant in Pocatello was the world’s largest elemental phosphorus producing facility for almost all of its 53 year operating history. In 1948, FMC acquired the Westvaco Chemical Company and assumed ownership of the Pocatello plant while it was still under construction. FMC completed the construction and the first phosphorus producing electrical furnace went on line on July 1, 1949 — by 1952, there were four furnaces operating at the site.
In a typical year, with all four furnaces operating, 1,750,000 tons of raw shale/coke and silica were introduced into the furnaces and heated to temperatures up to 8000 degrees Fahrenheit, producing 250 million pounds of elemental phosphorus. The elemental phosphorus would then be rail transported to one of FMC’s phosphorus processing plants in California, New Jersey, Kansas, Wyoming, or West Virginia.
At these plants, the elemental phosphorus was processed with other chemicals to make high-purity, food-grade phosphoric acid, which is a common additive in soft drinks, and to make countless phosphate compounds, which are used in baking powder, prepared flour and refined sugar, as well as in cereals, cheeses, meats, jellies, jams and malted milk. Phosphates are also used in the manufacture of plastics, glass, tires, paints and fabrics; in the production of toothpaste, detergents, dishwashing and household cleaning products; as well as in the tanning of leather, production of matches and flame retardant products, and in the manufacture of antibiotics, including penicillin.
From 1949 through 1992, the shale needed for production at the plant was mined on the Fort Hall Reservation at the Gay Mine by the J. R. Simplot Company and delivered by rail to FMC and the adjacent Simplot plant. In 1993, after the ore resources at the Gay Mine were exhausted and Simplot began moving ore to their plant from Smokey Canyon, FMC began mining phosphate ore at the FMC mine in Dry Valley, near Soda Springs, Idaho.
The plant closed on December 10, 2001, due primarily to the unsustainable increase in electric power costs. Demolition of the plant and closure/remediation of all active process facilities was completed in 2006. Numerous steps have been taken to identify an environmentally protective cleanup of the plant site that also will support productive site redevelopment. On June 10, 2013, EPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) to FMC to implement the September 27, 2012 Interim Record of Decision (IROD), which formally selected cleanup measures for the FMC site. FMC is committed to expeditious implementation of the IROD and UAO cleanup requirements both to ensure protection of human health and the environment and facilitate successful redevelopment of the plant site for the benefit of the surrounding communities.