Warning sign along Hogan’s Creek in Jacksonville
Required to update its Human Health-Based ater Quality Criteria to protect human health from exposure to surface water chemical contaminants, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) was presented with a choice. The agency could follow the more conservative recommendations of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and potentially tighten regulations on chemicals or they could choose a less protective route that would be more favorable to industry and agriculture.
They chose the latter, and higher pollution limits are now being proposed for numerous toxic substances currently regulated by FDEP. This will only benefit the bottom-line of polluters, NOT the health of Florida’s citizens.
Fish consumption is one of the primary pathways to exposure to these dangerous chemicals, and Floridians are eating a lot more fish than originally estimated when the current criteria were developed. When the current standards were last updated in 1992, a Fish Consumption Rate (FCR) of 6.5 grams per day was used. Today, for residents living in the Atlantic region of Florida, the 90th percentile FCR is 29.17 grams/day. The national average for the 90th percentile is now 22 grams/day. The more fish we eat, the more chemicals we ingest. Raising the pollution limits for dozens of chemicals, as FDEP is proposing, will only further increase our chances of cancer and other health problems.
In addition, FDEP failed to consider the potential health effects from exposure to more than one chemical. Unfortunately, each of us is exposed to a toxic soup of chemicals from multiple sources in our everyday lives. Exposure to more than one contaminant at the same time can “produce a cumulative or even synergistic toxicity.” According to the FDEP, “A chemical-by-chemical assessment of risk, as conducted in this analysis, could underestimate risks from more than one chemical in combination.” A recent international study concluded that even some chemicals considered non-carcinogenic may increase cancer risk when present in the environment in certain mixtures with other chemicals.
Citizens were also not afforded a sufficient opportunity to weigh in on this critical and highly complex issue. The proposed criteria were published on May 6, and the public was only given until June 1 to submit comments, less than 30 days for a technical document worthy of extensive review. FDEP also only conducted three public workshops on May 10, 11, and 12, 2016, in Stuart, Orlando, and Tallahassee. At those meetings, FDEP announced that it was planning to take the proposed rules to the the Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) for a decision in early fall. However, on June 30, FDEP announced that the rules would be fast-tracked and sent to the ERC on July 26. This earlier than expected date also conflicted with a critical meeting in South Florida addressing the toxic blue/green algae outbreak, further reducing stakeholder input.
To make matters worse, two of the seven ERC seats were vacant – the seats representing the environmental community and local government. Despite these key vacancies, the ERC voted 3-2 to approve FDEP’s proposed rule changes. One of those commissioners voted to approve the revised criteria was Craig Varn, a “lay citizen” representative on the ERC. Varn previously served as the Special Counsel on Water Policy and Legal Affairs for FDEP up until April 2016. Now, the criteria must go to the EPA for final approval.
The bottom line is that FDEP decided to accept a higher level of risk and disregard key factors that impact our health, resulting in proposed regulations that will expose Floridians to higher concentrations of chemicals and a greater chance of cancer and other health concerns. For more information, download our factsheet.
- Contact Governor Rick Scott. Ask him to do the following:
- Fill the two vacancies on Environmental Regulation Commission with qualified individuals who will represent the interests of the environmental community and local governments.
- Re-open the public comment period and hold workshops in each major region of the state. The public deserves more time and more opportunities to review and evaluate the proposed rules and submit comments.
- Once the two vacancies have been filled and more time has been provide for public input, send the proposed criteria back to the ERC for a vote.
- Contact the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ask them to reject the proposed criteria and send back to the DEP for further review and public comment.
Learn more about the proposed revisions to the Human Health-Based Water Quality Criteria on the FDEP website.