EPA Agrees to Set Limits on Fertilizer and Animal Waste Pollution in Florida

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

David Guest, Earthjustice, (850) 228-3337
Manley Fuller, Florida Wildlife Federation, (850) 656-7113; cell (850) 567-7129
Andrew McElwaine, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, (239) 438-5472
Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club, (727) 824-8813, ext. 302; cell (727) 804-1317
Neil Armingeon, St. Johns Riverkeeper, (904) 256-7591; cell (904) 635-4554

EPA Agrees to Set Limits on Fertilizer and Animal Waste Pollution in Florida

New policy contrasts with inaction by Bush administration

Tallahassee, FL - In a major step forward for the environment, President Barack
Obama's administration has signed a consent decree in which it agrees
to set legal limits for the widespread nutrient poisoning that triggers
harmful algae blooms in Florida waters.

"This is a refreshing change of policy after almost a decade of
foot-dragging by the Bush administration," said Earthjustice attorney
Monica Reimer. "It is a real milestone in the struggle to safeguard
lakes, rivers and estuaries throughout Florida."

"We look forward to working with the Florida Department of
Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
in developing numeric criteria to keep our waters safe," Earthjustice
attorney David Guest said. 

The change in federal policy comes 13 months after five
environmental groups filed a major lawsuit to compel the federal
government to set strict limits on nutrient poisoning in public waters.

Nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen poison Florida's waters
every time it rains; running off agricultural operations, fertilized
landscapes, and septic systems. The poison runoff triggers algae
outbreaks which foul Florida's beaches, lakes, rivers, and springs more
each year, threatening public health, closing swimming areas, and even
shutting down a southwest Florida drinking water plant.

In a 2008 report, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
concluded that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its
lakes had poor water quality. The problem is compounded when
nutrient-poisoned waters are used as drinking water sources.
Disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine can react with the dissolved
organic compounds, contaminating drinking water with harmful chemical
byproducts.

Exposure to these blue-green algae toxins - when people drink the
water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it - can cause rashes, skin and
eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious
illness, and even death.  In June 2008, a water treatment plant serving
30,000 Florida residents was shut down after a toxic blue-green algae
bloom on the Caloosahatchee River threatened the plant's water supply.

The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the suit in the
Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife
Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental
Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John's Riverkeeper, and the
Sierra Club in July 2008.  The suit challenged an unacceptable
decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting
limits for nutrient pollution.  EPA's agreement to set enforceable
nutrient limits settles that lawsuit.

Read the consent decree

Today's action has nationwide implications. Currently, Florida and
most other states have only vague limits regulating nutrient pollution.
The U.S. EPA will now begin the process of imposing quantifiable - and
enforceable -- water quality standards to tackle nutrient pollution.

"Floridians around the state will be breathing a sigh of relief with
the EPA's new commitment to finally take action," said Manley Fuller,
president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "The delays on the part
of the state and federal governments have been unbelievable. Today's
action is welcome, and it has been a long time coming."

"The EPA's ruling could not have come at a more appropriate time for
the St. Johns River," said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon.
"Nutrient pollution has once again caused the appearance of the 'Green
Monster' and has made the river potentially unsafe for residents
and wildlife. This ruling paves the way for meaningful river
restoration."   

The EPA originally gave Florida a 2004 deadline to set limits for
nutrient pollution, which the state disregarded. The EPA was then
supposed to set limits itself, but failed to do so. Under the
administration of President George W. Bush, the EPA let the states off
the hook by allowing them to formulate plans without deadlines for
action.

The dire state of Florida's polluted waters made the delay unacceptable and dangerous, so the five groups sued.

"These numeric standards address an outstanding need we've had for
quite a while to protect our local coastal waterways such as the
Caloosahatchee River, Naples Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands,"  said
Andrew McElwaine, president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
 "Setting a quantitative water quality standard for nitrogen, one of
the primary pollutants degrading our coastal waterways, should help
limit the development of harmful algal blooms. With a numeric standard
in place, we can definitively assess whether our waterways can support
healthy ecosystems, a healthy economy and protect public health and
safety."

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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