Florida Could Allow More Cancer-Causing Chemicals in State Water

On the surface, it seems like a pretty easy question to answer: Should Florida allow more cancer-causing chemicals to pollute its water? But then again, this is Gov. Rick Scott's Sunshine State, where concerns like "public health" often take a back seat to corporate cronyism.

Critics say that's exactly why a Scott-appointed board in Tallahassee is likely to vote today to allow significant increases in known carcinogens in state waterways.

"What we have is a governor who has his agency playing God with our lives," Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network, tells New Times. "I don't think there's anyone out there other than the polluters and the politicians who benefit financially from them who think we need to dump more toxic chemicals in our water supply."

Of course, that's not how the Florida Department of Environmental Protection paints the issue. DEP's spokesperson tells the Miami Herald that the change is about updating out-of-date standards. The state's current standards for chemicals in the water haven't been updated since 1992, and since then, DEP has developed its own computer safety models.

The new standards, which will be voted on today by the Environmental Regulatory Commission, would in fact impose tougher limits on some toxic chemicals, including cyanide and beryllium.

But Young and other critics say that overall, the new standards would vastly weaken the rules for many other dangerous drugs, including carcinogens such as benzene, which is a byproduct of fracking operations. The state would allow nearly double the federal limit on benzene under the new rules. 

DEP hasn't allowed environmentalists access to its computer models, Young says, so there's no way to know how the department has reached the conclusion that these toxicity levels would be safe in Florida. 

"DEP has this whole statistical computer method that's not available to anyone else," Young says. "You just don't know how bad your risk level is."

Even worse, the board that will vote on the change today is stocked entirely with five business-friendly Scott appointees, Young says. Two vital slots are unfilled on the commission: the environmental representative and a local community rep. "We have five people all appointed by Scott, all representing business interests and not the public interest," she says.

What the change is really about, Young argues, is giving big industries such as fracking carte blanche to pollute despite the health risks. 

"We have a governor who hates regulation, and we have his agency that is doing his bidding," Young says. "This is wrong, and it's bad public policy. Scott is saying, 'I don't care if there are millions of people at much greater risk of cancer.'" 
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink