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Troubled Waters: Pollution Problems

Florida’s waterways are suffering from significant pollution problems such as fertilizer runoff, poorly treated municipal and industrial wastewater, and failing septic tanks.

As a result, approximately 55% of all assessed stream/river miles, 80.4% of assessed acres of lakes, 59.4% of assessed acres of estuaries, 72% of springs, and 31.4% of assessed shoreline miles are impaired (not meeting water quality standards) in Florida. Source: Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report for Florida

Nutrient Pollution

Nutrient overload, or eutrophication, from too much nitrogen and phosphorous is one of the most serious water quality problems facing the St. Johns River and other waterways throughout our state.

The nutrient pollution comes from wastewater treatment plants, industrial discharges, failing septic tanks, storm water runoff, manure and fertilizers that regularly wash into the river.

Excess nutrients feed the blue green algae, or cyanobacteria, that naturally occur in our waterways, causing uncontrolled algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water needed by fish and reduce light that is essential to submerged vegetation. Some types of cyanobacteria produce toxins that can be harmful to the health of humans, pets, and wildlife.

Click here to learn more about the health risks from algal toxins and how to report algal blooms. 

Resources:

Report: Half of Florida lakes' surface have 'elevated algae levels, WTSP 8.6.16, WTSP 8.6.16

Florida's Indian River Lagoon in Environmental Crisis, FCIR 8.6.16

Slimy Green Beaches May Be Florida's New Normal, National Geographic 7.27.16

Algae is Blooming in Waterways All Around the Country, Florida Today 7.24.16

Paula Dockery: Florida's going green, but not in a good way, Sun Sentinel 7.10.16

Septic Tanks

Thirty percent of the people in Florida rely on an estimated 2.7 million septic tanks for their wastewater disposal.

Septic tanks that are old, malfunctioning, or located in poor soils or areas with a high water table can leach bacteria from human waste, nitrogen, and other contaminants (pharmaceuticals, hormones, etc.) into waterways.

According to Drew Bartlett, Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the cost to address the failing septic tanks that are polluting just our springs would cost up to $2.4 billion.

Despite the costly and widespread pollution problems associated with septic tanks, the state of Florida continues to issue thousands of permits for new systems each year.

Learn more
about what you can do to properly maintain and care for your septic tank. 

Resources:
Failing septic tanks endanger St. Johns River, WJXT 9.21.16

How septic tanks may imperil this Florida ecosystem, PBS Newshour 8.6.16

Florida pollution fix: get rid of septic tanks, Orlando Sentinel 6.2.16

Toxic Chemicals

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 60 million pounds of toxic chemicals were produced and released by industrial facilities in Florida in 2014. These chemicals are often released directly into our air, waterways, and underground injection wells.

Mercury is currently the contaminant of greatest concern in Florida's fish,” according to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

The primary source of mercury is from coal combustion emissions that are then deposited into our waterways when it rains. 

Pesticides and herbicides used by agriculture, homeowners and businesses, and our government agencies to control invasive aquatic plants are also a major concern.

At a time when our state waters are experiencing toxic algal blooms and major pollution problems, our Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is proposing to increase the allowable limits of numerous toxic compounds that are discharged into our state’s waterways. Read more.
 
Resources:
EPA 2015 Toxic Release Inventory Analysis for Florida

Florida Department of Health Fish Consumption Advisories 

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