Cancer-causing chemicals will go nicely with toxic algae, flesh-eating bacteria

Fred Grimm
August 18, 2016
Miami Herald

Such auspicious slidermucktiming. Rick’s gang at the state Environmental Regulations Commission could hardly have picked a more gruesome year to loosen restrictions on toxic chemicals dumped into Florida’s waterways.

 
A deluge of benzene, beryllium, trichloroethane, dichloroethylene and other known carcinogens ought to blend nicely with the stinking layers of Day-Glo green algae that has been sliming the St. Lucie River and threatening the Caloosahatchee River. Or with the massive fish kills along the Banana River, Sykes Creek, the Indian River and the Mosquito Lagoon.
 
The new hazard-chemical rules complement the fertilizer runoff and industrial pollution plaguing the St. Johns River and the black foaming paper-mill effluent that environmentalists claim has left a 10-square mile dead zone at the mouth of the Fenholloway River. And, of course, with the blessing of the ERC, agricultural and industrial and municipal waste pollution will continue to make its wretched way down upon Suwannee River. Sadly, I roam.
 
The ERC, which voted last month to allow polluters to flush higher levels of 23 toxic chemicals (including 18 known carcinogens) into rivers, streams and canals, must assume that Florida waterways have become so adulterated that no one much cares about a couple of dozen more hazardous pollutants. Not in a state that frequently warns swimmers away from waters with high levels of enteric bacteria, attributable to fecal contamination.
 
We’ve got dead manatees floating in the toxic algae scum on the Indian River Lagoon. We’ve got radioactive isotopes showing up in Biscayne Bay near the Turkey Point nuclear plant.
 
We’ve got 450 tons of phosphorus a year flowing into Lake Okeechobee from farms, ranches, citrus groves and the Orlando suburbs. And, boosted by global warming, vibrio vulnificus, AKA “flesh-eating bacteria,” menaces swimmers in brackish coastal waters, especially when fresh-water releases (like from Lake Okeechobee), mess up the salt-water ratio. The bacterial infection killed 14 Floridians in 2015 and 5 so far in 2016.
 
The ERC voted 3-2 on July 26 to adopt new standards that include rules for 39 chemicals that had not been previously regulated. But the board, despite outraged public opposition, simultaneously loosened regs on the long list of other industrial chemicals. “I have never seen so much public opposition to an ERC decision in the 25 years that I have been participating in ERC meetings,” said Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network.
 
Clearly, the ERC was more interested in serving the wants of certain special interests. “It seems to me that the chemicals whose water quality standards were lowered are those chemicals most likely to be violated by paper mills, sugar production, and fracking operations,” Randall Denker of Waters Without Borders, a Tallahassee law firm devoted to water issues, told me via email.

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