Five major Florida environmental groups join together today to welcome the first-ever limits on the widespread water pollution that poses a major public health threat in Florida.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new limits to reduce contamination from inadequately treated sewage, animal manure and fertilizer. The new standards will be phased in gradually so that industries have time to make needed changes to clean up dirty discharges into public waters.
These pollutants wash into Florida waters every time it rains. They 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.
The EPA committed to set nutrient pollution limits after the Bush administration determined that they were needed in Florida. That determination produced a settlement of related litigation by Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. In January 2009, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection endorsed the determination and agreed that pollution limits are needed in Florida.
“These toxins cause massive fish kills and harm wildlife,” said Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller. “We’ve let this pollution go on for decades, and the EPA’s new limits are a key step in the right direction.”
“The EPA’s limits are based on sound science,” Fuller continued. “We know more about the effects of pollution from sewage, animal waste and fertilizer now. Scientists have clearly documented how damaging this pollution is. Knowing that, we have a responsibility to keep these poisons out of our public waters.”
EPA’s action today sets pollution limits for Florida’s flowing freshwaters, lakes and springs. Pollution limits for estuaries and South Florida canals will be set by August 2012.
"The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of cleaning up Florida’s waterways. Fertilizer runoff, industrial pollution and raw sewage spills have added enormous loads of nitrogen and phosphorus to our rivers, lakes, streams and bays,” said Frank Jackalone, Florida Staff Director of the Sierra Club. “That pollution feeds red tides and harmful algae blooms which devastate our fisheries, make people sick, lower property values and shut down coastal tourism. Thankfully, EPA has stepped in to rescue Florida from the powerful gang of polluters who for decades have used campaign gifts and intimidation to stop state government in Tallahassee from taking this action on its own."
Florida’s worst polluters—including sewage companies and pulp mills—have publicized a series of fallacious reports claiming preposterously high costs for pollution reduction. For example, the sewage lobby published a report claiming that needed sewage treatment costs would be 1,000 times higher than the actual costs, claiming that everybody’s sewage bill would increase by $700 per year. EPA calculated the actual upgrade cost for each individual major and minor sewage plant in Florida and found that the annual cost would be $55 million per year, which amounts to 25¢ per month per Floridian. Earthjustice attorney David Guest said: “This scare campaign is aimed at convincing middle class Floridians that stopping this contamination of their water is impossibly expensive. It’s a routine tactic by industry lobbyists.”
“We know what happens when nitrogen and phosphorus pollution builds up: dead fish on our beaches, algae piled three feet high along the shore and dead zones in our sounds and estuaries,” Conservancy of Southwest Florida president Andrew McElwaine said. “Without meaningful standards for nutrient pollution, our water will never recover. Fishing, boating and outdoor recreation are more than amenities in southwest Florida—they are our life blood. They are the backbone of our economy, and without them we may never see a recovery. In our part of the world, numeric nutrient standards will not only protect our health and our environment, they will help us restore the reason people want to live and invest here.”
St Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armigeon added: “The St. Johns River is the poster child for why we need the EPA’s numeric nutrients standards. Last summer, the river experienced toxic algae blooms, massive fish kills, and a meringue-like foam that had a devastating effect on Jacksonville’s economy and quality of life. The State has failed the citizens of northeast Florida—our only hope is the EPA.”
The EPA reports that it has received 22,000 public comments on the proposed new nutrient pollution standards, and 20,000 of those comments were in support of the standards.