Christopher Creek next to Epping Forest in Jacksonville

Recently, Earthjustice filed a legal challenge on behalf of St. Johns Riverkeeper and several other groups against Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), because the state agency is failing to protect residents and tourists from dangerous toxic algae outbreaks.

“Toxic algae outbreaks are a public health threat and they also affect Florida’s bottom line,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “These outbreaks can cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse. Health authorities have had to shut down drinking water plants, beaches and swimming areas. Toxic algae can kill fish, livestock and pets, and we need to be cleaning it up."

“The DEP’s decision to weaken pollution standards is an economic slap in the face to the thousands of Floridians who work in the tourism industry,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon, who has watched businesses suffer as the St. Johns gets covered with repeated toxic algal blooms. “This pollution hurts people who work in restaurants, hotels, beach concessions, the fishing industry, the boating industry, the dive industry, and the real estate sales and rental markets.”

After years of seeing toxic algae outbreaks on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and the Sierra Club.   As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was compelled to step in and set numeric limits for the excess phosphorus and nitrogen in Florida waters that comes from wastewater discharges, failing septic tanks, manure, and fertilizer.

The rule that the EPA set for Florida was a “speed limit sign” that gave everyone fair notice of what specific level of pollution would be allowed in a particular water body.  If the speed limit was exceeded, regulators could take action to prevent toxic algae outbreaks. 

However, the state DEP has now decided to propose its own weaker rule that doesn’t provide that certainty and won’t protect public health.

To demonstrate the extent of the nutrient pollution problem in Florida, the Sierra Club created an interactive map of Florida’s slimed waterways, which stretch from South Florida to the Panhandle.  Click here to access the "Florida Slime Crime Tracker" map.