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Florida's Secret Mercury Factory

By Alan Farago

Remember how Big Sugar said the problem in Florida’s estuaries was septic tanks adjacent to the Indian River? They say the same about the mercury problem in the Everglades and Florida waterways: it’s someone else’s fault. Not of course that Big Sugar fails to clean up its pollution.

Mercury contamination is well known in Florida. Sugar's responsibility for it isn't.

The same sort of wizardry applies to how Big Sugar talks about mercury. Let’s break it down:

For mercury contamination to pollute aquatic ecosystems, the mercury must first be transformed to the powerful neurotoxicant methylmercury. Once methylmercury is formed, it can readily enter the base of aquatic food chains and accumulate at increasingly higher concentrations up the food chain from algae to predatory fish and ultimately to terrestrial wildlife such as wading birds and mammal species, including the endangered Florida panther.

This process is known as bioaccumulation and can easily result in concentration increases of methylmercury in fish by factors of over one million relative to methylmercury concentrations in the water column of the Everglades. How does it happen?

  1. The bacteria largely responsible for producing methylmercury require sulfate to support their metabolism.  

  2. Sulfate concentrations are elevated across much of the Everglades. The magnitude of this contamination can reach factors up to and greater than 50 compared to background levels, depending on location. Those excess concentrations of sulfate are largely due to one source: farming practices involving the drainage of flooded soils and the use of elemental sulfur as a soil amendment in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

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Criminal Charges for Silence on Toxic Algae?

By Allie Preston

Michigan Health officials are up against manslaughter charges after knowingly withholding information from the public about contaminated water and potential effects on human health. Anybody else feel like they’re in the Twilight Zone? The ACLU says the same thing happened here.

Florida’s “Toxic Summer of 2016” made national news featuring mats of slime that contaminated waterways, massive losses of sea life, and a surge of emergency room visits. ACLU Florida released a report highlighting the human health implications of the 2016 algae bloom and more important, the lack of initiative by state officials to warn residents. Tainted Waters is a scathing accusation that administrative policies lacked transparency and that access to information on public health threats was screamingly inadequate for emergency situations like last summer’s toxic discharges.

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SFWMD: EAA Reservoir "is not going to happen"

The EAA reservoir “is not going to happen.” That’s what South Florida Water Management District WRAC member Newton Cook proclaimed at the June 8 SFWMD Governing Board meeting.

Depending on what meeting you attended this week, Senate Bill 10 and the reservoir are either the ambitious next step in a decades-old restoration process or the elephant in a room full of elephant hunters.

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Q&A: The US Sugar Program

Americans pay billions to help sugar growers buy politicians. We should stop.

The US sugar program is a sprawling, complex federal handout that too few people know about. As a result, it quietly skates by, largely unquestioned, leaving a trail of destruction and tax bills. The following Q&A is just the first step toward understanding and eventually stopping the damage this massive government subsidy enables.

Sugar Program Q&A

Q: Is the sugar program actually a subsidy?

A: Absolutely. Although not a direct payment to growers, the program sets artificially high prices, guarantees buyers, guarantees profit, and blocks competition. Growing sugar is a zero-risk business thanks to US taxpayers.

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SFWMD: Snakes on a Plain!

And now for something completely different...

SFWMD has the cure for "bad news" fatigue. It’s the python channel! All pythons, all the time.

Research linking cyanobacteria to liver failure ignited a recent wave of alarm as more evidence surfaced connecting toxic algae to health risks in coastal communities. But the South Florida Water Management District came through as usual with a welcome diversion on its electronic sidestage -- more pythons!

Although Florida faces another round of deep budget cuts, and federal funding for natural resource management programs may zero-out entirely this year, SFWMD somehow found the money to invest in a social media initiative dedicated largely to pythons.

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Toxic Algae Linked to Deaths from Liver Diseases

People are dying. Researchers around the world are studying the link between toxins in cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and serious, long-term health risks, and evidence is piling up connecting algae blooms to fatal diseases.

TC Palm today covered a decade-long Ohio State University study linking blue-green algae blooms to death rates from liver diseases. The study singled out Florida’s Treasure Coast, ground zero for toxic algae-laden discharges from lake Okeechobee, as a statistical cluster where anomalously high numbers of people die from non-alcohol-related liver failure.

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How SFWMD and the Army Corps Got One Right

No one has been a louder critic of SFWMD than Bullsugar. But the district and the Army Corps of Engineers have a legitimate success with the Kissimmee River project.

By focusing on returning the river to its historic condition, letting nature work the way it used to, and avoiding high-risk, over-engineered approaches, they’re on track to deliver positive results on a project that we all agree is important. We should apply the lessons of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project to all remaining CERP projects.

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Bud Jordan: Investing in Martin County's Future

Bud Jordan built a legacy of personal investment in Martin County. After watching US Sugar infiltrate and turn a local institution against itself, he walked away from a group he founded. But instead of a bitter lesson, Jordan’s work is a blueprint for how to build and protect a healthy community.

Bud Jordan moved to a waterside paradise in 1971 and fell in love. He and his wife Marji ate stone crabs and pompano caught from their dock and swam in the St. Lucie all year long. But it didn’t take long to notice the river’s decline. Slowly at first, but then in awful pulses that came more and more frequently with freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee, the grass beds and fish began to disappear. More of the snook Jordan caught had lesions and parasites. The deep river bends silted in with flocculent ooze--polluted, decomposing muck from the lake.

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Two Steps Forward, NO Steps Back

Almost everyone in Martin County has been involved in helping Sen. Joe Negron pass SB10 to send water south and save our river and the Everglades. The Stuart News pointed out that David won a great battle against Goliath, but it's not over yet. Implementing SB10 in the next year will take as much effort as getting it passed.

Martin County residents made a big difference. They were passionate and educated. The Stuart News was no exception. It was unafraid and accurate in its reporting 

With their help we were able to answer Sugar's repeated attacks that claimed the toxic algae was our own fault because we had septic tanks. We could point out that Martin County had the strictest limits on new septic systems and the best wetland protection in the state.

All that makes it hard to understand how our commissioners could possibly consider lessening restrictions on septic systems and giving up on enforcing policies that keep urban development from sprawling beyond the urban service district.

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What Are We Celebrating?

By Chris Maroney

As you've probably heard, Senate President's Joe Negron's EAA Reservoir bill passed the Florida legislature this week. 

You've also probably heard the bill was watered down, and it was -- but make no mistake: this is a real victory. So what are we celebrating?

Progress, and most of all, unity. When Bullsugar formed nearly three years ago, Floridians were in the dark about the key to stopping toxic discharges and restoring the Everglades. Today, they are much better informed. In the last year, organizations, businesses, and individuals across Florida united to demand that the state expedite the most critical project in CERP, the EAA Reservoir. This demand was presented in a short, simple statement of support for long-established science and basic economics called the Now or Neverglades Declaration.

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