Our long fight to get clear standards to control pollution from fertilizer, animal waste, and sewage hit a major milestone this week (Nov. 15), when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new, enforceable limits in Florida—the first ever in the U.S.
EPA scientists worked in conjunction with scientists at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set these important limits on excess nutrients—phosphorus and nitrogen—which are wrecking waters in Florida and all over the U.S.
This first set of new EPA standards governs nutrient discharges into Florida’s freshwaters and lakes. The limits will be phased in so that industries have time to make needed changes to clean up dirty discharges.
The next set of nutrient pollution standards—for estuaries and flowing waters in South Florida—will be set by August 2012.
The EPA committed to set these limits after Earthjustice, representing Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and St. Johns Riverkeeper, filed a major 2008 lawsuit to challenge the unacceptable decades-long government foot dragging in dealing with this problem.
Phosphorous and nitrogen wash into Florida waters every time it rains. The excess nutrients trigger toxic algae outbreaks—green slime that covers lakes, rivers, bays and streams. Exposure to these algae toxins—when people drink the water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it – can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness and even death. Fish and wildlife can also be killed by the toxins.
This pollution is a public health threat. It is nothing to mess around with. This pollution has sent people to the emergency room. It has closed beaches all over Florida. It has shut down public drinking water plants. It has been tolerated for too long.
What a huge difference this will make for boaters, swimmers, tourists and residents. Controlling phosphorous and nitrogen at its source is so much cheaper and more effective than trying to clean it up after the fact. Year after year we’ve been heartbroken, watching Florida’s magical clear, sandy-bottomed waters get choked by out-of-control algae and slime.
We here at Earthjustice’s Florida office are so proud to be a key part of moving this cleanup forward—in Florida, and hopefully, in the nation.