Carol moved from Connecticut in search of a tropical paradise, beautiful beaches, and clean waters. She thought that she’d found it when she landed in Palm City, but today she describes that excitement as short-lived.
In recent years, that paradise has become a gamble. Summers marked by Lake Okeechobee discharges are often the norm. Green water began regularly replacing the jewel tones she moved here for, and properties lined with toxic algae and fouled by its smell peppered the shoreline of the coastal community that she’d made home. She and her partner, Rick, watched in horror as their paradise declined right before their eyes.
After the massive cyanobacteria outbreak of 2016, Carol found herself plagued by chronic health issues that continue to this day. She began to wonder if the water that had drawn her to this area was responsible. But in their search for answers, Carol and Rick have felt defeated. Countless agencies have listened to her concerns, but their responses have been vague and generally unhelpful. Carol and Rick been unable to find anyone willing or able to definitely answer questions regarding personal health concerns that they believe are consequences of exposure.
This past summer was a bright spot, and Carol and Rick credit operational changes that kept the lake lower this year for a much-needed reprieve from toxic water. But they still have questions. They called attention to gaping holes in the representation and communication structures that are in place for the public.
“It’s pretty bad when they knowingly poison you,” Rick said in a video interview with Bullsugar. “That’s the part that bothers me the most. That they knew they were dumping toxic water in the river.”
“And the big thing is, who do you trust? You used to think that you had reps and senators, state reps and congressmen, and they’re taking care of you... right? I don’t trust anyone anymore. What happened?”
The Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization have reported serious, immediate health risks associated with drinking, touching, and even breathing near cyanobacterial blooms like those in Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, and the St. Lucie River. In 2016, Ohio State University researchers identified increased risks of terminal, non-alcoholic liver failure in communities where cyanobacteria blooms occur regularly. And a growing body of medical research links cyanobacteria exposure to heightened risks of neurological diseases including ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, all of which can develop years after exposure.
Any water management practice that can sicken or kill people should be an absolute last resort. The legal framework governing the management of much of the South Florida water management system is outdated and prioritizes the agricultural industry over human health, the environment, and the tourism and maritime industries. An updated authorization replacing the current governing regime, the 1948 Central and Southern Florida Project, is overdue and necessary. Updating the priorities of the system should make health and human safety the paramount consideration in managing the system.
Carol and Rick are two stories in thousands that deserve to be heard. All of South Florida deserves government action that will give them their health and paradise back. There’s no time to wait.