Toxic Water

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) should really change their name. Maybe go with something more aptly descriptive like Department of Environmental Pollution In the Name of Jobs. Or to borrow from Randy Schultz of the SunSentinel, “Florida Don’t Expect Protection.”

Earlier this month the FDEP continued their assault on the environment with a highly questionable list of allowable limits for toxic chemicals in surface waters.

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott has made JOBS his priority, so much so that he’s drawn ridicule due to his propensity to answer any question, regardless of the topic, with his message about bringing JOBS to Florida. Any effort to diversify our economy in a state heavily dependent on tourism is admirable. But not when those efforts risk the environment and current #1 economic driver– tourism. How about our JOBS? Make no mistake; poor water quality will kill tourism, and thousands of JOBS just in SWFL.

Scott has amassed quite the anti-environment record since taking office. He’s made severe cuts to the state’s water-management districts, cut DEP funding – hamstringing their ability to do anything about polluters, abolished the Department of Community Affairs, the agency responsible for growth management. Last year he proposed opening up state parks to logging and hunting. Oh, and ignored Amendment 1.

So, it should come as no surprise that the proposed Florida DEP toxic chemical limits have raised a lot of red flags among environmentalists. These are the human-health limits for toxic chemicals in surface water, say downstream from a manufacturer.

The Clean Water Act calls for the regular re-examination of these limits, but Florida’s haven’t been revised in over 25 years. This new list will go to the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission for approval. They turned down a list in 2013. Look for approval this time around though because it’s become clear that if Florida won’t set standards, the feds will impose them. And that might hurt JOBS or at least polluters. The regulating commission is composed of seven members, all appointed by, wait for it, Governor Rick Scott. As they say where I come from, the fix is in.

The DEP’s list includes 82 toxic substances includes 43 chemicals already regulated in Florida, and adding first time standards for 39 others. The FDEP claims to have “used the latest science and Florida-specific data to ensure Floridians can continue to safely eat Florida seafood and recreate in our waters.” They proudly point to the nearly doubling of regulated pollutants.

That means that right now, only 43 toxic chemicals are regulated in surface waters. That’s scary in my book.

What they don’t say is that the vast majority of those 82 chemicals would have lower standards than recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. About a dozen chemicals are having their allowable limits raised.

What it all boils down to is the DEP has decided how much of 82 different chemicals your body can absorb without poisoning you based upon your weight and how frequently you might be exposed to those chemicals.

You feel safer? Me neither.

How do you feel about Arsenic? Well the DEP level is about 1,000 times higher than the EPA recommends for drinking water.

Benzene? A known causative agent of leukemia? And possibly not coincidentally a chemical used in fracking. The allowable limit for benzene would be tripled under the new regulations and would be 43% higher than the EPA limit. The DEP says their raising the benzene limit has nothing to do with fracking. With a straight face they say that.

If you’re thinking that there must be more than 82 toxic chemicals that should be regulated in surface waters, you have some good company. The EPA lists several dozen additional toxic chemicals that Florida’s DEP leaves unregulated.

Remember Dioxin and Love Canal? Dioxin is one of those chemicals that will remain unregulated.

While surface water is not drinking water and chemical levels differ, all water quality if Florida is important. The unique limestone base we live on is incredibly porous. Pollutants dumped into surface water can make their way into our drinking water and find their way to the waters that residents and visitors use for recreation.

Tourism – our #1 economic engine. Why would the state do anything to jeopardize that engine? Much less several years worth of strategic budget cuts and policy decisions that have harmed the environment, putting all Floridians’ lives and economic security at risk. It’s time to stop.

Tourism is critical here. We know that any threat to water quality has an immediate and drastic impact on our economic health. Allowing our own state officials to undermine our way of life is unacceptable. The good news is that the public is being asked to comment on the new limits.

Submit comments on the DEP plan by June 2nd via email: Eric.Shaw@dep.state.fl.us, phone 850-245-8429, or mail Eric Shaw, Water quality Standards Program, FL DEP, 2600 Blair Stone Rd, MS 6511, Tallahassee, FL 32399.

 

Missy Layfield