The Florida Department of Environmental Protection promotes fracking, wants to exploit the natural resources in our state parks, and now wants to allow more poisons in our drinking water. 1,000 times more arsenic than allowed by the EPA. Three times the current amount of benzine.
Public blasts DEP over new water toxics limits
People speak out during a Department of Environmental Protection workshop on new standards for toxic chemicals in drinking and fishing waters. Jeff Burlew
Jeff Burlew, Democrat senior writer 10:58 a.m. EDT May 15, 2016
The state of Florida wants to weaken its restrictions on roughly two dozen cancer-causing chemicals that can be discharged into its rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is in the process of revising limits on toxic chemicals that can be released into surface waters, something it’s supposed to do from time to time under the Clean Water Act but hasn’t since the early 1990s.
The agency is updating human-health criteria for 43 dangerous chemical compounds it currently regulates and adopting standards for the first time for another 39.
Of the 82 various toxic substances, the vast majority would have lower standards than recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency. And of the 43 chemicals now regulated, about a couple dozen would see limits increased beyond those currently allowed.
DEP officials say the new standards — based on risk and factors like seafood consumption — would let Floridians safely eat Florida fish and drink local tap water their entire lives. They say the concentration of pollutants in the water wouldn’t pose a significant risk to the average Floridian’s health.
But environmental groups and concerned doctors say the new standards would increase chances people will get sick or develop cancer from the contamination in seafood and water. The proposal drew fire last week during a DEP workshop in Tallahassee, one of only three held around the state.
“The DEP should be pushing for even more stringent criteria than what we have now rather than trying to weaken them,” said Dr. Ron Saff, a Tallahassee allergist and immunologist. “Your job is to protect Floridians, not to poison us.”
Linda Young, executive director of the Florida Clean Water Network, said Florida’s tourism economy could be destroyed if the state allows more and more pollution into its waters.
“I can promise you that nobody takes a vacation to Love Canal,” she said, referring to the contaminated Superfund site in New York. “If you keep weakening Florida’s water quality standards, which you’ve been on a roll for a while now doing … the word’s going to get out that Florida’s waters are toxic.”
Agency officials said the proposed standards were developed using EPA approved risk levels and methodologies and Florida specific data to protect human health. They noted that under the proposal, the number of pollutants DEP would regulate would nearly double.
“DEP is proposing to regulate 39 new compounds and update the 43 existing criteria using the latest science and Florida-specific data to ensure Floridians can continue to safely eat Florida seafood and recreate in our waters,” said David Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, in an email.
““The DEP should be pushing for even more stringent criteria than what we have now rather than trying to weaken them. Your job is to protect Floridians, not to poison us.””
Dr. Ron Saff, a Tallahassee allergist and immunologist
Fracking chemical a concern
Environmental groups are deeply suspicious the new standards are part of efforts to bring fracking to Florida. Allowable amounts of benzene, a well known carcinogen used in fracking and found in high levels in its waste water, would go up nearly three times.
“All this is about is that somebody wants to pollute,” said Dr. Lonnie Draper, president of the Florida chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “And in this case, it’s probably the fracking industry.”
But agency officials, during Thursday’s workshop, denied that the proposed standards are in any way tied to fracking, an unconventional drilling technique that opponents say causes a myriad of environmental and human-health problems.
DEP officials unveil proposed new criteria for toxins in surface waters during a workshop Thursday in Tallahassee. (Photo: Jeff Burlew)
“They are not connected,” said Ken Weaver, DEP’s environmental administrator for water quality standards. “I had no pressure to affect the benzene criteria. It’s just this is the methodology (and) that’s the number that came out of it.”
Under DEP’s proposal, allowable levels of chloroform would go up significantly, though they would be similar to new EPA guidelines, Young said. Allowable levels of arsenic would stay the same but remain more than 1,000 times higher for potable water than what the EPA recommends, she said.
The proposed criteria could go before the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission as soon as this fall for possible approval. The board, whose seven members are appointed by the governor, tabled criteria proposed by DEP in 2013.
The state’s plan would leave unregulated several dozen toxic compounds on the EPA’s list of recommended criteria, including dioxin, a byproduct of pulp and paper mills that’s contaminated places like the Fenholloway River in Taylor County.
“We’re threatening our real-estate values, our seafood industry and our tourism economy for the benefit of a handful of large corporations that want to externalize their operating costs by dumping their toxins in our waters,” Young said in an interview. “No one wants this except for the polluters.”
Contact Jeff Burlew at [email protected] or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.