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FDEP Withdraws Rule That Would Have Allowed More Toxic Chemicals in Florida’s Waters After Challenges

MIAMI, Fla.— On Friday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection withdrew a dangerous state rule that would have allowed increased levels of toxic chemicals in Florida’s surface waters. Miami Waterkeeper and St. Johns Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, have been campaigning against this rule since it was proposed in 2016.  

“This is a major victory for all Floridians and our wildlife. This process was plagued with problems that would have exposed more Floridians to toxic chemicals in surface waters,” says Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director and Waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper. “We are thrilled that the DEP has finally reconsidered the risks and will reexamine its science.”

This rule, proposed by Governor Rick Scott’s FDEP, was rushed through the Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC), despite having vacant seats that the Governor had failed to fill for representatives from the environmental community and local government.

The rule used a controversial method of cancer risk calculation that differed from the ones used by every other state in the nation and that did not follow with methods recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This resulted in toxic exposure limits that were higher than EPA recommendations for most of the chemicals examined. In short, DEP accepted the likelihood that more Florida citizens might develop cancer with these new exposure limits, using a carcinogenic “chemical risk calculation” that is 10 times (or sometimes 100 times) higher than the current rule allows.

Because chemicals accumulate in fish or shellfish, people who eat Florida-caught seafood even just once a week would have increased their cancer risk by orders of magnitude. Subsistence fishers, who eat Florida caught fish daily, like many tribal communities, are the most at risk.

Aside from increasing our cancer risk, this rule would have also hurt the market for Florida seafood, deterring the public from choosing “Fresh from Florida” shellfish and fish. “Florida’s economy relies so heavily on clean water. This rule would have resulted in a direct hit to commercial and recreational fishing industry, tourism, and public health. You have to ask who would have benefited from this rule. It certainly wasn’t me, my kids, or my fellow Floridians,” said Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper.

Miami Waterkeeper, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and Earthjustice have been working with experts to evaluate FDEP’s faulty science and have submitted technical comments to the EPA. The groups also mounted a petition and letter-writing campaign, met with the EPA, and rallied local municipalities to oppose the rule.  Over 11 municipalities passed resolutions opposing the rule.  

In 2016, the City of Miami joined the Seminole Tribe in a legal challenge to the rule. After initial setbacks, the City and the Tribe won their appeal at the 3rd District Court of Appeals, permitting them to have an administrative hearing on the merits of the rule, which was scheduled for April.

Then, this past week, in an item sponsored by Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, the County Commission also directed the County Attorney’s office to join the fight against the rule and intervene in the administrative proceedings.

With mounting opposition and a hearing looming on the horizon, FDEP formally withdrew the rule as proposed and reinitiated rulemaking last week. In preparation for a revised version of rule, the FDEP “intends to conduct a state-wide fish consumption survey to accurately determine the amount and types of fish commonly eaten by Floridians” before promulgation.

“It’s time for the state to go back to the drawing board and use the best science to protect Floridians from toxic chemicals in our water,” said Tania Galloni, Managing Attorney for the Florida Office of Earthjustice. “We need safeguards so that polluters don’t wreck our fishing and recreation industries.”

Miami Waterkeeper is a Miami-based nonprofit organization that advocates for South Florida’s watershed and wildlife. Our goal is to educate locals and visitors about the vital role of clean water in Miami’s clean water economy, and to empower them to take an active role in community decision-making. We hope to ensure a clean and vibrant, water-based coastal culture and ecosystem for generations to come.

St. Johns RIVERKEEPER, Inc. is a member-supported, nonprofit advocacy organization.  Our mission is to be an independent voice that defends, advocates, and activates others for the protection and restoration of the St. Johns River.

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health; to preserve magnificent places and wildlife; to advance clean energy; and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.

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    • Nayan Raj
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