Miami-Dade Commissioner Says Lower Water-Quality Standards Put Floridians at Risk

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park Photo by Carl / Flickr
Two years ago, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection unveiled a new set of water-quality standards that would allow higher levels of cancer-causing toxins in the state's waterways.

Environmentalists and health advocates say the proposed rule change would be devastating for Floridians, especially for children or people who eat a lot of seafood. And critics point out that many of the chemicals the state wants to ease restrictions on are also used in fracking and other industries with toxic byproducts.

Yesterday, Miami-Dade's government operations committee voted in favor of having the county join a lawsuit to challenge the new rule, which has not yet gone into effect. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava says weakening the state's water-quality standards would pose health risks to residents and allow more contamination of drinking water.

"I think we can all agree that a change that could expose children and pregnant women to greater amounts of toxins is unacceptable," Levine Cava said Wednesday. She has also argued the rule could hurt tourism and the state's fishing industry.

Groups such as the Miami Waterkeeper, a local nonprofit that advocates for clean water, support legal intervention by the county to stop the rule from being implemented.

"We feel this rule is based on faulty science," Miami Waterkeeper's executive director, Rachel Silverstein, told commissioners. "The public was not given the proper opportunity to be heard and to be represented."

Kelly Cox, Miami Waterkeeper's staff attorney, called the rule "truly dangerous."

"These levels are proposed to change a cancer risk from one in a million to one in 100,000 for the average Floridian," she said. "We think that’s a very substantial change, and we think it’s appropriate for the county to intervene to request stronger protections for public health."

Broward County and the City of Miami already have attorneys fighting the lower water-quality standards in court. Miami argues that the rule "loosens restrictions on permissible levels of carcinogens in Florida surface waters with absolutely no justification for the need for the increased levels of the toxins nor the increased health risks to Florida citizens."

If Miami-Dade gets involved — and the rest of the commission still has to agree — county attorneys would have to act fast. A final hearing in the legal case has been scheduled for late April, according to Levine Cava.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.