Thanks to the legal challenges, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has yet to increase the amount of toxins in our drinking water, as they would like to do. Our mis-named “protection” agencies are driven by industry, and put health and safety after the dollar. Caring, intelligent people would be striving to decrease the poisons instead of increasing them.
Linda Young and the Florida Clean Water Network have been fighting for this cause for years. Please visit their website and consider helping with this very important work.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Help overturn new water standards
Bart Bibler and Linda Young 5:56 p.m. CDT August 14, 2016
The Florida epartment of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has not revised the Surface Water Quality Standards in over 20 years, although they are required to conduct a triennial review (every three years). The FDEP has just adopted a revision weakening criteria for 15 toxic chemicals that are being dumped in our waters where some people get their drinking water and where everyone should be able to fish and swim. Some of these criteria have been increased by greater than a thousand fold! Four of these chemicals are known carcinogens.
While 39 new criteria were approved, FDEP chose not to set standards for 20 pollutants that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had provided proposed criteria for. The Florida Clean Water Network has been pushing since the early ‘90s for FDEP to regulate all human health-based toxics being dumped in our waters, including dioxin and many others. All of the new criteria that FDEP did set are weaker than EPA recommends for Florida to maintain a one in a million cancer risk level.
The FDEP uses EPA’s equation, which is an absolute requirement, but substitutes the “Monte Carlo” probabilistic method of calculating factors for body weight, fish consumption rate and drinking water intake — aptly named in that it gambles with public health. This method derives an average (or mean) from a wide array of far-fetched scenarios, rather than the appropriate number to protect the most sensitive populations (i.e. children, native cultures who consume more fish, etc.). For instance the range of body weight used to find the “mean” or “average” for the proposed criteria was between 78 and 375 pounds, with a mean value of 165 pounds and an average human weight of 226 pounds! This does not protect children or lighter-weight adults.
The toxicological basis for each chemical criterion was focused on carcinogenic effects or non-cancer critical effects, and did not consider endocrine disrupting effects or synergistic effects.
The FDEP has lowered its assumption of Floridians’ fish consumption rate several times during their surface water quality standards revision process. It doesn’t consider fish from marine water only from freshwater and estuarine water. The FDEP started out with an assumption of 63.5 grams per day in 2003, dropped it to 47.0 grams per day in 2005, dropped it again to 32.0 grams per day in 2008 and used just 24.2 grams per day in the approved rule. This is a key assumption of the criteria equation and is a significant reduction in protection of public health.
The FDEP monitors surface waters around the state by testing for these chemicals only once every five years. The FDEP requires permitted industrial and domestic wastewater dischargers to test only for some of these chemicals, and at a frequency that depends on the size of the facility and its discharge flow. The FDEP often allows discharge permit limit requirements to be met after a mixing zone, rather than at the end of the discharge pipe.
The EPA has established maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for public drinking water facilities, which have been delegated to FDEP to implement via their public drinking water program. The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) implements a drinking water program for smaller systems, including limited use drinking water systems (such as convenience stores and small residential rental properties) and private drinking water wells. The FDOH also tests private drinking water wells upon request, or around known contamination areas.
However, Florida has approximately 4 million private drinking water wells, but very few are tested and only for a very few chemicals. Since the FDEP has drinking water criteria (MCLs) for just a portion of chemicals known to be a risk to health and contaminating Florida’s groundwater, the FDOH establishes health advisory levels (HALs) for many other chemicals. The FDEP requires public drinking water systems to test only for some of the MCLs, not for the HALs, and at a frequency that depends on the size of the facility. Many of the public drinking water facilities are not designed to remove all of these chemicals addressed by the FDEP Surface Water Quality Standards. The smaller drinking water systems regulated by the FDOH typically have no treatment to remove these chemicals. Many public water systems, limited use water systems and private wells are under the direct influence of surface waters.
There are 23 of the new FDEP Surface Water Quality Standards that exceed FDEP Drinking Water MCLs or FDOH HALs. Some of these values exceed the MCL or HAL by greater than a thousand fold! Since Florida’s surface water and groundwater is often interconnected, this represents a significant threat to public health.
Please help overturn the new FDEP Surface Water Quality Standards. The Florida Clean Water Network is leading the legal challenges. Consider becoming a member and donating to the Clean Water Network.
Bart Bibler is a professional engineer, former assistant bureau chief of surface water management at FDEP and former bureau chief of water programs at the Florida Department of Health.
Linda Young is executive director of the Florida Clean Water Network.