FDEP Withdraws Rule That Would Have Allowed More Toxic Chemicals in Florida’s Waters After Challenges
In 2016, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) proposed a rule to ease restrictions on toxic chemicals in our surface waters which would have had direct impacts on public and environmental health. In February 2018, in response to opposition from the City of Miami, the Seminole Tribe, and Broward County, the Department withdrew its rule and reinitiated rulemaking.
On July 26, 2016, the state's Environmental Regulation Commission passed the original proposed rule by a 3-2 vote. There were no public meetings offered in South Florida and there were vacant seats for a local government and environmental representative on the Commission at the time. In early August 2016, the Seminole tribe challenged this rule in state court, stating that Florida had violated procedures in rushing the rule and had cut short public comment periods. Furthermore, they claimed that the rule did not adequately protect tribal communities. On September 13, 2016, the challenge was dismissed because the tribe filed at 5:02 pm, and the deadline was 5:00 pm.
After these initial setbacks, the Seminole tribe and the City of Miami appealed to the Third District Court of Appeals where they were successful in October 2017. The Court agreed with a prior ruling from the First District Court of Appeals and found the City and the Tribe's rule challenge to be timely. As a result, their challenge was remanded back down to administrative court for a hearing on the merits that had been scheduled for April 2018. In February 2018, 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 these administrative proceedings.
Shortly thereafter, FDEP issued a notice that they would withdraw the rule and start over from scratch.
Check out our Miami Herald Op-Ed highlighting the issues with the original proposed rule.
How and why did Governor Scott’s DEP propose to loosen the regulations of cancer-causing agents in our waterways?
The how is simple: DEP utilized different models for calculating cancer risk than the methods used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and every other state in the nation. Furthermore, Governor Scott’s 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. In other words, where the existing regulations accept the risk that toxic exposure levels might cause cancer in 1 in a million people, DEP’s proposed rule changes would allow that number to rise for some risk groups to 1 in 100,000 people, or, in some cases, even 1 in 10,000.
What did the original proposed rule mean for our water quality?
Carcinogens, or toxic compounds that have been shown to cause cancer, include benzene, which DEP’s original proposed rule would have allowed to increase by a factor of three in our water. The rule change would have also allowed dramatic increases in allowable limits of perchloroethylene—the toxin implicated in the infamous Camp Lejeune Cancer Cluster, where U.S. service members developed cancer after drinking water contaminated with this carcinogen.
The risk factors increased for people who eat Florida-caught seafood under the original proposed rule more than once per week, and even more so for subsistence fishermen who might eat seafood daily, because the chemicals that accumulate in fish or shellfish are passed along to humans who consume them. People who eat Florida-caught seafood even just once a week would have increased their cancer risk by orders of magnitude under the original proposed rule. Subsistence fishers who eat Florida caught fish daily, like many of our tribal communities, would have been the most at risk. Aside from increasing our cancer risk, the original proposed rule would have allowed higher carcinogen levels in our water, and thus in our fish, which could have hurt the market for Florida seafood, deterring the public from choosing “Fresh from Florida” shellfish and fish.
As for the why, many of the toxic compounds currently under review are, not coincidentally, the very same chemicals commonly used in fracking and other polluting industries. Although some 50 Florida counties and cities have banned fracking, Tallahassee has tried several times to preempt these bans.
What have we done so far?
Miami Waterkeeper partnered with other organizations and experts in the field to submit technical comments to the EPA. These comments highlight the deficiencies in FDEP's model for evaluating risk. Check out our comments HERE and the technical assessment by our expert HERE.
Miami Waterkeeper and St. Johns Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, have been campaigning against this rule since it was proposed in 2016. We successfully 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. This advocacy, coupled with the administrative challenge, contributed to FDEP's rule withdrawal and reassessment.
For more information Miami Waterkeeper's actions to fight the original proposed rule, you can download our press release HERE.
For our take on FDEP's withdrawal and rulemaking reinitiation, click HERE.
What do we know now?
We know that the State of Florida will be reevaluating exactly how much fish Floridians consume. The notice of reinitiating rulemaking specifically states that FDEP “intends to conduct a state-wide fish consumption survey to accurately determine the amount and types of fish commonly eaten by Floridians” before rule promulgation.
We also know that there will be an opportunity for public comment and involvement at some point in the new rulemaking process.
How can you help?
1) Follow Miami Waterkeeper for updates on the new proposed rule and opportunities for public comment
2) Talk about this on social media and share this link
3) Sign the petition below
4) Support our efforts to keep Florida’s water clean by making a contribution today!
Did you know that in 2016 Florida DEP proposed a rule change to increase dozens of toxic chemicals in our water, risking the lives and livelihoods of Floridians? The rule was recently withdrawn, but the fight isn't over! FDEP will now have to draft a new rule and we need public involvement now more than ever.
Let your voice be heard and tell FDEP that Florida says NO to higher cancer risks from more toxic chemicals in our water.
Sign below to say NO to more cancer-causing chemicals in our water!
Climate change is one of the most complex (and expensive) challenges we face here in Miami, a city that is considered ground zero for sea level rise. We have the most resources at risk worldwide from sea level rise and are already beginning to feel its effects. Today, flooding, ecosystem and habitat loss, and saltwater intrusion are increasing in frequency and severity. We need to take action to protect our city and our water well into the future.
We recognize the urgency of responding to sea level rise and use the best available science and management practices to support our efforts. We focus on four approaches to ensuring sea level rise readiness in Miami:
- Promoting green infrastructure and natural defenses, such as coral reefs, mangroves, and dunes
- Educating public and elected officials about sea level rise science and the need to consider both mitigation and adaptation in public planning
- Advocating for recommendations from the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Task Force and the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact
- Taking legal action to ensure proper sea level rise planning, especially in large infrastructure projects like the construction of new nuclear power plants and sewage system retrofits.
While there is no silver bullet to dealing with sea level rise, there are things we can do to prepare our city and our environment and we need your help!
Donate today to support our efforts to implement smart planning, avoid risky development, protect healthy ecosystems, and promote green infrastructure.Donate
Florida’s reefs are invaluable to the economy, ecology, and livelihood of South Florida. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is poised to start a major dredging project in Port Everglades without implementing protections that will save nearby corals. During a similar dredging project at Port Miami, just 30 miles south, the Corps illegally harmed ten times the number of corals predicted and caused severe impacts to an area of reef that would cover 200 football fields. In 2014, Miami Waterkeeper and co-plaintiffs filed an Endangered Species Act lawsuit to get these corals protected and restored. Hundreds of threatened staghorn corals have been rescued as a result, but many more were buried alive and now need restoration.
We are trying to avoid a "Dredgeful Situation" in Port Everglades. The Corps has signed the Record of Decision for the dredging of Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, which makes the project eligible for approval. But, the Corps’ current project plan for Port Everglades is based on demonstrably false data and assumptions, and still fails to protect imperiled coral.
Are you worried about the safety of Florida's reefs during the dredging of Port Everglades? Sign the petition, add your voice.
It's time for better protections for reefs.
The Miami-Dade sewage system has spilled tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways in recent years.
Sewage pollution can cause severe environmental damage and negatively impact human health and safety. Sewage dumping is caused by outdated and ineffective infrastructure, leaking septic tanks, and the destruction of natural areas and the wetlands that naturally absorb stormwater. Sewage introduces pathogens, heavy metals, excess nutrients, and other pollutants into our waterways that enact a heavy toll on water quality. These toxins can cause destructive algal blooms, fish kills, and the die-off of aquatic life. Pathogens into swimming areas and our water supply can cause illness, disease outbreaks, and increased risk of chronic, long-term illnesses.
We are committed to reducing or eliminating the sewage spills that pollute our waterways. In 2012, we filed a notice to sue Miami-Dade County over Clean Water Act violations and challenged a multi-billion dollar proposed infrastructure plan that failed to account for sea level rise and provide adequate funding for the Water and Sewer Departments maintainence. Since then, the County has incorporated many of our suggested best management practices for dealing with flooding issues and sewage problems.
We want to ensure that Miami’s continued growth is sustainable and doesn’t come at the cost of permanent environmental damage. We need your support to make sure that we can continue to protect Miami’s incredible waterways that are critical to our quality of life here in South Florida. Miami deserves a sewage-free bay that is ready for the challenges of the future. Help us fight for one.
Miami deserves a sewage-free bay that is ready for the challenges of the future.
In the first week of March 2016, the Division of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) of Miami-Dade County released a report showing that water from the cooling canals at FPL’s nuclear power plant, located at Turkey Point, is contaminating Biscayne Bay. The canals are also contaminating the Biscayne Aquifer, which is an underground water storage area that is the sole source of drinking water for millions of South Florida residents. Hypersaline (super salty) water laden with tritium (a radioactive isotope), phosphorous, and ammonia is passing through our porous limestone geology and into our water both above and below ground.
While our drinking water is still safe, our drinking water supply, stored in the aquifer, and the water in our Bay are being contaminated by FPL’s plant. For years now, salt and other chemicals from the canal water have been sinking into the Biscayne Aquifer and spreading, at a rate of over a foot a day, towards the well from which we draw our drinking water. If we don’t stop this spread, it will lead to an inevitable drinking water crisis. This contamination from the cooling canals in the aquifer already spreads for miles around Turkey Point.
The high levels of tritium in the aquifer and in the Bay act as a tracer to definitively link the water leaking into the Bay and the aquifer back to the cooling canals. The ammonia and phosphorous are very dangerous for Biscayne Bay too, because they can cause algae blooms, which kill fish, smother seagrass, can be harmful to people, and smell and look terrible. Historically, Biscayne Bay has not had algal blooms; however, in the last several years they have been persistent and are expanding.
We are asking the County to issue a Notice of Violation to FPL regarding the contamination of Biscayne Bay. For too many years, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has failed to find a solution to the cooling canal problem. We now ask that the EPA step in to investigate Clean Water Act violations and to find a lasting fix that keeps our drinking water safe and our Bay healthy. Furthermore, we feel that FPL should halt their plans to build two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point in light of the problems with the current plant operations. FPL must fix this mess.
FPL is also requesting permission to store radioactive waste underneath our drinking water using untested technology. Sign our petition below to keep our drinking water safe.
It's time for the FPL Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant to clean up it's act.