FAQ: Everglades Toxic Mercury Levels Threaten Human Health and Wildlife

Who is polluting what? The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) operates six large treatment systems (“STAs”) just north of the Everglades Protection Area and Everglades National Park. The SFWMD has been violating its permits by discharging an average of 55,000 metric tons per year of agricultural waste containing sulfates into the Everglades. These discharges violate the District’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which violates federal law.

So what? Is this causing any harm? Yes. The sulfur pollution combines with mercury in the Everglades to form highly toxic methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is a neurotoxin (causes injury to nerves and nerve tissues). Methyl mercury in Everglades’ fish is a serious threat to humans who consume these fish. The Florida Department of Health warns against eating most fish caught in the Everglades. Pregnant women and their fetuses and small children are at the highest risk of harm. Mercury also harms endangered wildlife species in the Everglades.

How come I’ve never heard about this problem? The State of Florida and EPA have been studying the mercury problem in the Everglades for many years, but they have repeatedly failed to act to protect the Everglades and human health. Scientists from government and academia agree that action is needed now to save the Everglades and protect human health.

So, where is the sulfur coming from? Like most of the pollution of the Everglades, a great majority of the sulfur comes from industrial sugar cane growing in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of Lake Okeechobee and north of the SFWMD’s treatment marshes.

Why should the taxpayers have to pay to clean up Big Sugar’s water pollution? They should not. The Florida Constitution was amended 15 years ago to make Big Sugar liable to pay for 100% its own pollution cleanup, just like every other industry in America.

So, why are the taxpayers still paying for this? Because the State, the Water District, the Governor, and mostly, the Florida Legislature have all illegally refused to implement the Polluter Pays provision of the Florida Constitution.

This is completely outrageous. So, the State of Florida allows Big Sugar to contaminate the Everglades with sulfates, which creates toxic methyl-mercury, endangering pregnant women, their fetuses and small children and Everglades’ wildlife, and the Florida taxpayers have to pay to clean it up? Yes, until the Florida Legislature decides to obey the Florida Constitution.

Where is all this mercury coming from? From worldwide, coal-burning power plants that put metallic mercury pollution into the atmosphere.

So, why not just stop the mercury released from burning coal? Until just recently, the EPA has done nothing to reduce mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants. Also, foreign coal-fired power plants, which are not under US jurisdiction and control, also deposit mercury on the Everglades.

Why does Big Sugar use so much sulfur anyway? Some agronomists from universities in Florida have questioned Big Sugar’s rates of sulfur application and its resulting water pollution of the Everglades. According to experts, Big Sugar can cut its sulfur use, reduce pollution of the Everglades, and still operate profitably.

This just makes my blood boil. How can I help? Call or write your state representative and state senator. Tell them to STOP sulfate and mercury pollution of the Everglades and to PASS legislation to make Big Sugar Polluters pay for their own pollution cleanup, as the Florida Constitution requires.

Help us win this battle to protect human health and the Everglades
from sulfate and mercury pollution!

Categories Education, Environmental Issues | Tags: | Published in April, 2012 |

Share this story:

RSS Facebook Twitter Google del.icio.us Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window