Environmentalists blow whistle on state proposal to allow more toxins in state waters

By Francisco Alvarado, 

Photo: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Photo: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida’s rivers, streams, lakes and coastal waters face a dramatic increase in the level of toxic chemicals that cause cancer and other serious illnesses under a proposal by the pro-business administration of Gov. Rick Scott to water down state environmental protections.

That’s the warning from a coalition of activists and scientists about a proposal by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] to allow corporations to dump higher levels of dangerous contaminants into public waterways than state rules now allow.

“The department is taking us backward,” Florida Clean Water Network founder Linda Young told FloridaBulldog,org. “[The new rules] will make our waters more polluted. It is really bad policy that is of no benefit to the taxpayers and the public.”

The proposal would recalculate the parts per billion limits for 82 toxic chemicals designated as human health hazards. State law allows industrial waste to include these chemicals as long as they are under the limits set by DEP.

State officials, however, flatly reject the environmentalists’ concerns that those higher limits pose a threat to all Floridians.

“Depictions that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is weakening water quality protection and endangering Floridians is false,” said agency spokeswoman Lori Elliott. “The proposed criteria were based solely on scientifically sound and verifiable information and variables, and are protective of human health even in the most extreme cases.”

The impasse illuminates a long-running battle that environmentalists and preservationists have waged against the administration of Gov. Scott, which recently came under fire over the state’s handling of Lake Okeechobee discharges that sent billions of gallons of toxic polluted rainwater into the Atlantic earlier this year.

Michelle Gale, a former psychologist who lives in Coconut Creek, is an activist for the national anti-fracking organization Food and Water Watch, said Scott has effectively neutered DEP’s enforcement powers. “Since Gov. Scott got into office, he has really gutted DEP,” Gale said. “He has put in people who do his bidding. We have to keep fighting and fighting them.”

Lauren Schenone, Scott’s deputy press secretary, declined comment.

‘DEP stalling’

The state’s environmental protection department last updated the list of regulated toxic chemicals in 1992. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] has been doing it more frequently, most recently a year ago,” Young said. “Florida DEP had been stalling.”

Out of 120 toxic chemicals the federal agency recommended regulations for, Florida only has restrictions on 43. Under the new plan, DEP would add 39 more toxic chemicals to the list. The DEP’s Elliott insisted Florida has some of the most stringent regulations in the nation.

“In fact, we are increasing protection by proposing to nearly double the number of regulated chemicals to better protect Floridians and visitors from exposure to contaminants,” Elliott said. “In addition to adding criteria for 39 chemicals that currently have no regulations, DEP is also updating 43 existing criteria to incorporate the latest national science for the protection of public health.”

However, draft language of DEP’s updated Human Health-Based Water Quality Criteria shows the department is raising the caps on a majority of the regulated toxic chemicals that can be released into surface waters. Young said DEP has ignored concerns raised by scientists and activists at three public workshops held in May. The department has until September to finalize the new criteria.

For instance, the current limit for the chemical benzene, a carcinogen that can cause vomiting, convulsions and loss of consciousness to people exposed to high levels, is 1.18 parts per billion. Under DEP’s updated criteria, the cap would be three parts per billion. The federal standard is 1.14 parts per billion.

Some chemicals, like arsenic, would remain at a current level of 10 parts per billion. But that’s still 1,000 times higher than what the federal government recommends as an allowable limit, Young said.

She also noted that DEP’s new rules don’t address several dozen unregulated toxic compounds, including dioxin, a byproduct of pulp and paper mills that has contaminated such places as the Fenholloway River in Taylor County. Short-term exposure to dioxin may result in skin lesions and a breakdown in liver function, while long-term exposure can impair the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions, environmentalists say.

“DEP’s approach allows us to take into consideration the characteristics of all Floridians,” Elliott said. “This is a much more sophisticated and comprehensive analytical method that allows us to generate criteria to protect all Floridians including small children and people who eat more seafood than average.”

Young disagreed. “It is not going to protect us,” she said. “They want to justify having the weakest standards as possible.”

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Latest comments

  • Thank you T party for getting this IDIOT elected to public office . This man is so toxic to most citizens of this state and the majority of you won’t know it until its too late.

  • Rick Scott is an amoral sociopath and psychopath. He has no conscience. He has no soul. He thinks he can’t be touched. One day his bull crap will 360 and sting him good, eg cancer of his damn balls

  • I have been communicating directly with the Water Quality Program of the Florida Dept. of Environmental “Protection” and copying in my State Senator and Representatives office. There are some very disturbing things going on here. I am finding out that many of Florida’s own legislators are not even aware of the DEP’s proposed plans to dump highly toxic, and even carcinogenic, chemicals into Florida’s waters.

    The deadline for the Public to comment was on June 2nd. If our own Florida legislatorsd do/did not know, how was the Public supposed to know? I posed my comments and questions to the DEP’s Water Quality Program this past week and received a reply from them on Thursday, June 9th. They say that they “held 11 workshops throughout Florida over the past four years.” Hello? This equates to less than 3 workshops per year in our huge State with a population of at least 16 Million people. Is anyone starting to get the picture that the DEP does not want anyone to know of their toxic intentions?

    Furthermore, I asked the DEP how they promoted these “workshops” (sounds innocuous as opposed to “Public Hearings”). The response that I have just received back from Daryll Joyner, Administrator for the DEP’s Water Quality Program (with CC’s to my Florida Legislators) is that they advertised these “workshops” on the DEP’s website and the Florida Administrative Register. How many (actually how few?) Floridians ever look at the DEP’s website? I bet most Floridians think that they should be able to trust their Department of Environmental “Protection.” NO LONGER.

    How many (how few?) Floridians have ever heard of the Florida Administrative Register? Much less refer to it for information regarding the DEP’s proposed toxic plans?

    The bottom line is that the DEP does not want anyone to know about their very disturbing intentions…..Please continue to keep this story in the spotlight. And better yet, I suggest that anyone reading this do the following –

    1) Make your Legislators aware of these enormous public health and environmental issues and ask them to fight the DEP’s plans

    2) Ask your Legislators to request an extension on the deadline for the Public to comment. The DEP has turned down my request. They have admitted that only 115 people commented. Why….because no one knows about these disturbing issues, much less that there even was a June 2nd deadline to comment by.

    3) Ask your Legislators to insist on more “workshops”/ Public Hearings throughout the State, including a good number throughout South Florida.

    4) Ask the DEP to promote these Public Hearings/”workshops” via Public Service Announcements in newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations – sources that the Public readily refers to. These PSAs must be broadcasted at least a week to 10 days in advance.

    4) Ask the DEP to hold these “workshops”/Public Hearings at nights and on weekends. They have declined my request to do this. I wonder why….

    5) Demand that the State use the same scientific evaluative water quality model that the other 49 states and the EPA are using. Florida is using the “Monte Carlo” method which allows for much higher levels of toxins and carcinogens. Hmmm…..”Monte Carlo”….strong association to gambling….

    6) Ask your Legislators to insist that no decision be made by the DEP on this enormously disturbing issue until all of the above-noted steps have been accomplished.

    Florida’s physicians and scientists, including State members of Physicians For Social Responsibilty, are speaking out against the DEP’s proposed plans. They are among the few Floridians who know of the DEP’s intentions. We can not allow the DEP to irreversibly poison our water, food, health, and environment!

    Joanne Oyen

  • Can’t help but wonder which private entities Slick Scott owns or is invested in that will be dumping these toxic wastes into our waters. And water sourced for public use runs just 1 ft under ground.

  • Too bad he can’t be impeached for crimes against the people of Florida, both he and P. Bondi. He poisons the waters, lowers funding for education and the state’s Social Services. Cuts back on citizens’s voting rights. Will not extend health care to our most vulnerable citizens. How and why was he ever voted into office – and now he wants to become Senator. NO one talks about the money he stole from the health care that he had to partially reimburse.

  • The reason so many people voted for Scott is because he strikes a chord with unintelligibles who have no vision beyond 3 things; abortion, guns, and any group of people different from themselves. These folks will go fishing and when they catch the big one, with a third eye, believe it’s some unknown and new species.

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