October 12, 2016
Guest column: Confluence of crises in Florida
If things weren't bad enough with sea level rise flooding South Florida on high tides and especially full moons, the Zika virus, toxic algal blooms on the east and west coasts of Florida, saltwater incursion in wells 3 miles inland, fish kills, algal blooms along the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon ó now we have what the media is reporting may be the biggest sinkhole in Floridaís history.
A major phosphate company near Tampa, Mosaic, developed a leak in its storage pond, with a 45-foot-wide hole in the bottomdraining an estimated 215 million gallons of toxic and radioactive waste into the aquifer. The hole could be as deep as 750 feet and, if so, it would readily contaminate the Florida aquifer serving millions of Floridians. Oh, and Mosaic didnít think to notify the public or the state when it occurred.
Sounds reminiscent of Flint, Michigan.
For the first time in decades, people are trying to leave rather than move into South Florida. Tourism and recreational activities are being affected because of the Zika virus, polluted waterways and now the threat of bad drinking water. Reoccurring fish kills are showing up in Stuart and Jensen Beach in the southern reaches on the Indian River Lagoon and in the Banana River and in the Northern Lagoon.
This year, yet again, the dangerous blue green algae showed up, which not only can kill fish and the animals that eat those fish, but also make people sick when exposed to its vapor† or come into physical contact with it.
On Floridaís west coast, what has become an annual dangerous condition brought on by† red tide has shown up again on the usually pristine beaches of Siesta Key and Lido Beach. These toxic blooms can kill a wide spectrum of sea life and it can make humans sick when exposed to it.
We now learn the blue green algae in the waters of the St. Lucie River this year contained a toxin known as BMAA,† which has been linked to Alzheimerís, ALS and Parkinsonís disease.† Who is researching this chemical and biological contamination in our waterways to see what itís doing to our marine life?† Should we be putting out alerts not to eat the fish?
Itís clear our local and state health departments need to be on alert to these dangers and advise the public accordingly. Letís not be another Flint or Mosiac crisis by waiting until the public is exposed to these dangerous conditions before they are notified of it.
Itís clear that Florida needs to be proactive in attacking these dangers before marine life and humans become exposed to these conditions. In addition, it is time Florida develops aggressive action plans to eliminate the pollution sources impacting the environment and now the people of Florida.
There is an immediate need to stop permitting growth in close proximity to sensitive waterways, particularly with septic systems, unless they are the newest, safe high-tech systems that donít pollute the groundwater.
There is a need to inspect all septic systems on a regular basis to ensure they are functioning as intended, particularly those installed pre-1983 that only required a 6-inch separation from the drain field and the water table.
There is a critical need to prevent any further discharges from Lake Okeechobee and move the water south to the Everglades.
There is a need to be vigilant on best management practices that have no inspection or certification by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. There is a need to examine the many canals that Florida built 70-80 years ago to drain the swamp. We need to determine exactly what is in those canals. Are there pesticides, toxic chemicals, excess nutrients and/or algae?
We need to be thorough and responsible and do state-of-the-art scientific inspection of all sources of pollution.
Finally, we need to inculcate the concept of sustainability in any and all growth and development plans submitted for approval. Itís a concept and ethic that is long overdue and one that needs to be our first line of defense to prevent further degradation to our surroundings ó including the protection of our environment and the publicís health.
We need to take serious the equivalent of the medical communityís Hippocratic oath and "do no harm."
Wayne Mills, of North Hutchinson Island, is former chairman of the board of trustees of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.