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The Indian River Lagoon Program and the Marine Resources Council held a Hands Across the Lagoon Event in September in Melbourne to bring awareness to the declining state of the Indian River Lagoon. Coinciding with National Estuaries Day, attendees gathered at eight locations in five counties, ranging from Volusia to Martin. More than 5,000 attendees came out on foot or by kayak to support the cause. Organizers of this demonstration hope to make the health of their local lagoon a top priority for leaders at the local and state level and garner support for community action groups such as the Indian River Lagoonwatch, a local volunteer water quality monitoring team.

Save Our Aquifer, the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, the Sierra Club and others celebrated when the Rockledge City Council voted to keep strong the fertilizer ordinance that it passed earlier this year. The   council rejected opening the ordinance to exemptions for large fertilizer companies who lobbied to weaken the ordinance by giving them a free pass to fertilize whenever they want. The groups took their message to council meetings and held a large rally the day of the vote with over 100 people urging the legislators to say “NO” to Big Fertilizer and stick by the ordinance. The rally included a special guest appearance by the Creature from the Black Lagoon and an 11-foot long array of photos of dead manatees killed by toxic algae over the past months (see photo). The ordinance was passed largely to protect the Indian River Lagoon where waste fertilizer runoff gets into the lagoon and impacts manatees and pelicans that are dying in alarmingly high numbers due to the growth of red-colored algae that feeds on the fertilizer and displaces other endemic plants.

Residents in the northwest section of Miami in Dade County are getting organized to address the pollution and what they believe is a cancer cluster in their neighborhood. News reports have identified many people with cancer including eight people who died from cancer in the past year. Others suffer from respiratory problems, including asthma. The cause is uncertain, but many blame a metal recycling plant in the midst of the neighborhood. There are, however, many other pollution sources within a half mile of the neighborhood including steel mills, plastics manufacturers, and chemical plants. Although the state health department did not find an increase in cancer in the community, many local residents are not happy with this finding and have reached out to CHEJ for help. One of our first tasks is to sort out what’s known about the pollution and contamination that exists throughout the neighborhood.

Save Our Aquifer (SOA) is leading the fight against plans by the city of Rockledge to store reclaimed water in an Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) well. The city had put its decision on hold for a year while it considered additional data. Now the year is up and they are moving forward. SOA is concerned that the waste water that will be injected into the ASR well, which could contain endocrine disrupters, carcinogens, bacteria and viruses, will contaminate the clean aquifer that provides drinking water to the city as well as many private wells. The reclaimed water would be cleaned to a primary standard but not a potable or drinking water standard. The problem is the aquifer is not sealed from the ASR well which would allow the reclaimed water to leak into the drinking water supply used by the municipality and private wells. There is also concern that arsenic could leak from the well into the drinking water.

The grassroots group Gainesville Citizens CARE has been organizing against the City of Gainesville’s proposed 100 megawatt biomass incinerator. In April the group filed a lawsuit asking that a $3 billion Power Purchase Agreement approved by the City Commission and negotiated by Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) be declared void because it violated the state’s sunshine law. Gainesville CARE believes that the City Commission negotiated details of the agreement without public notice and failed to include a “termination for convenience clause” that would have given Gainesville the option of backing out of the contract prior to construction of the plant. Public outrage against the commission and the incinerator has inspired the release of a searing protest song called “The Biomass Queen” which portrays the tumultuous history of the biomass plant and its burden on Gainesville’s poorest citizens in classic blues style.

Florida activists are celebrating a major victory as commissioners in St. Lucie County officially terminated a contract with Geo Plasma that the company has sought since 2005 to develop the nation’s first plasma gasification plant. The 100,000 square foot plant would have treated up to 3,000 tons of trash per day, and in turn generated electricity. Opponents of the plant were concerned about potential air pollutants and the slag by-product that would have been generated by the process, as well as the financial burden on the county. Commissioners cited financial limitations as the primary reason for terminating the contract.

Gulf Citizens for Clean Renewable Energy and several allied groups from as far away as Georgia and Mississippi joined forces to protest the proposed Port St. Joe Rentech, LLC incinerator with a street demonstration and a press conference. The groups voiced their concerns, calling the incinerator a source of “dirty energy” with “serious flaws.” The incinerator would use a technology that is unproven at large scale, would use up to 13 million gallons a day of scarce drinking water, and spew out over 600 tons of toxic air pollution. Dr. Michael Noll, President of Wiregrass Activists for Clean Energy put it this way: “Make no mistake about it. Biomass plants are neither green, clean, nor safe.”

Signs were posted by Save Our Aquifers (SOA) in the cities of Rockledge and Cocoa reading “Enough Already” and “Keep Arsenic Out of Our Groundwater.” SOA continues to oppose plans to use wells to inject 180 million gallons of treated wastewater into the aquifer that provides the towns with their drinking water. The project has been put on hold because of concerns that the water stored in the aquifer will not meet EPA drinking water limits of 10 ppb for arsenic once it is mixed with the waste water without additional treatment, which would make the project too costly. The Rockledge City Council is expecting an engineering report on arsenic problems in other wells around the state. It seems that the oxygen-rich wastewater leaches arsenic from the limestone formation that forms the aquifer where it is injected. SOA is cautiously optimistic as it continues its efforts to stop this threat to their drinking water.

Save the Ichetucknee River and local residents in Ichetucknee Springs are organizing to oppose plans by Suwannee American Cement Plant to burn hazardous waste for fuel. The state recently issued a draft permit to Suwannee to burn plastics, tires, roofing shingles, carpeting, scrap automobile interiors, and more. The group is concerned about the impact of the air emissions on the river and the environment surrounding the plant.

Congratulations to Floridians Against Incinerators in Disguise and other local residents who helped convince the Gretna city council that the proposed Adage biomass incinerator poses many health and environmental risks and leaves many questions unanswered. The Mayor decided that the people were right and that they would go no further with the project until “the citizens of Gretna are provided reasonable assurances that the proposed Adage project will not jeopardize the health and safety of the residents of the community.” Adage responded by announcing it was withdrawing its air permit application and suspending all work on the proposed plant.

Save Our Aquifer (SOA) in Cocoa uncovered test results showing that the Canaveral Port Authority released wastewater with high levels of arsenic into the surrounding aquifer and nearby storm water storage ponds. SOA is asking for an investigation into whether the port authority properly reported these findings and how they went about addressing the arsenic spikes. These findings fuel the group’s concerns that the wastewater being stored by the port authority in deep underground wells is contaminating the local groundwater and aquifers.

Save Our Aquifer (SOA) continues its effort to stop the town of Rockledge from injecting reclaimed waste water 500 feet underground into the aquifer that provides the town with its drinking water. SOA complained to the Brevard County State Attorney’s Office that Rockledge officials violated two provisions of the state’s Sunshine Law by meeting individually with consulting engineers to discuss the aquifer storage and recovery project and by keeping emails and some files related to the project in separate computers that are not available for public review. Town officials deny any wrongdoing but SOA continues to pressure them. The group is concerned that their drinking water will become contaminated by the treated wastewater.

Stephen Foster Neighborhood Protection Group organized a protest rally at the front gate of the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site in Gainesville in October. The group was protesting the proposed cleanup plan at the 40-year-old wood treating site released by EPA last August. Testing of the aquifer beneath the site found naphthalene, a component of creosote used to treat wood at the site, in excess of state standards. The drinking water supply for Alachua County, which draws its water from this aquifer, is located only 2-1/2 miles from the Koppers site. Soil on the site has arsenic and dioxins at levels that exceed state standards. Residents are unhappy the cleanup plan which they feel is woefully inadequate does not address the spread of this contamination to nearby homes.

Citizens Against Toxic Exposure (CATE) did not share EPA’s glee when the agency announced that it had received $2.5 million via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that it planned to use to complete the cleanup of the Escambia Treating Company Superfund Site in Pensacola. These funds allow the agency to finally remove the last of the 225,000 cubic yard dioxin-contaminated soil that has been stockpiled at the site since 1991. CATE is not happy that EPA’s cleanup plan involves burying the stockpiled soil, coined “Mt Dioxin” by local residents, on-site. They want the contaminated soil removed from the site.

The Farmworker Association of Florida in Apopka is working with concerned parents to stop the siting of a new school on the site of an old orange grove contaminated with pesticides. The group has been organizing for about a year and thought the fight was over after they met with the superintendent of schools about the school. But now the plan to build the school in the same location is back and the parents are re-energizing their efforts to block the school.

In March, CHEJ’s Lois Gibbs attended a community meeting in Fort Lauderdale’s Wingate neighborhood. Wingate was built around a known Superfund site and former municipal waste incinerator. This past December, a developer began filing zoning papers to build a charter school just steps away from this toxic land. The community, long known for its environmental justice activity, refused to sit by and let this happen. The community attended zoning board meetings, received media coverage, and most recently met to figure out its next steps, when the developer pulled its plan for the charter school. Lois Gibbs helped out at this last community meeting, speaking about the importance of community organizing and collaboration for a healthier and safer community.

Last December, after years of community organizing, a childcare center was pulled off a public housing development called Scott Carver in Miami due to contamination. The site is in the heart of Miami and was once a local dumpsite that was later used for public housing. The Miami Workers Center (MWC)and community members have been appealing to the city to clean up the land and rebuild one section of the housing development that was demolished. CHEJ has been working the MWC to help address the scientific and technical aspects of the contamination at the site.

Residents in Kenansville celebrated when they heard that a developer had withdrawn his application to construct a Solar Sludge Dryer to treat municipal waste water sludge. Neighbors felt the technology was not safe enough to protect the health of those living near the facility. The group focused its efforts on the county commissioners who had to approve the project. CHEJ provided organizing help and a technical review of the proposed operation. The owner withdrew the application after learning the County Commission was not going to approve their request due to the efforts of the citizens.

Congratulations to residents in Tallahassee who successfully opposed the construction of a biomass incinerator at Florida State University. Biomass Gas & Electric abandoned its plan to build the incinerator at the school site several days before a public meeting to address concerns raised by the public including the location of the plant in a residential neighborhood. Opponents were worried about health effects from air emissions, odors, and noise. The county Health Advisory Board supported these concerns by voting unanimously to recommend against building the plant in a residential neighborhood. Activists pledged to oppose BG&E if they consider going elsewhere in the state.

A new group in Kenansville is organizing to stop a sludge composting project. The plan calls for sludge to be dried in a greenhouse-like process that developers promise will produce an “environmentally safe” fertilizer.  The community isn’t buying it however. The county planning and zoning staff recommended approval to the planning board that also approved the project despite a large turn-out at the planning board meeting. Leaders left the meeting, however, more optimistic about stopping the project at the next level – the county commission. The group is stepping up its efforts to increase turn-out even more so at the county commission meeting. They hope to persuade the county commissioners to reject the project. CHEJ is providing organizing and technical assistance to the group.

Good news for residents in St. Lucie County. Plans to build a 3,000 ton per day gasification plant to burn garbage have been scaled back to a pilot project that would burn between 200 and 400 tons per day. Community opposition has been strong and county commissioners have no answers to questions raised about emissions from the proposed plant. These and other concerns were detailed in a powerful letter written by the president of the St. Lucie Medical Society. The commissioners are hoping to use the results of the pilot project to build public support to allow expansion to full size.

Local activists in Nassau County have called on politicians to reveal the location of an old paper mill waste dump located near a school and residential area. The county denies the existence of the dump, but community leaders know better and are hoping to convince the government to clean up the site. CHEJ is working with the community to train core leadership and develop the best tactics to engage the local government in conversation.

Congratulations to the Farmworker Association of Florida in Apopka who celebrated 25 years of work and accomplishments in the struggle for the rights of farmworkers in Florida.

Floridians Against Incinerators in Disguise held a press conference in Tallahassee to expose proposals by Green Power Systems and Goplasma to build plasma arc facilities to process garbage as incinerators in disguise. The groups warned of the potential dangers of these facilities and launched a campaign to stop them. Speakers from Greenaction and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, both based in California, addressed misleading claims made by companies proposing plasma arc facilities in the state, as well as around the world. They also discussed the troubled history of this technology and explained why they are incinerators in disguise that emit dioxins and other pollutants into the air.

Activists and organizers from ACORN, the Farmworkers Association of Florida and the community of Apopka attended a workshop organized by CHEJ to address environmental and health concerns in the community. Residents are concerned about a proposed expansion of a nearby landfill and about potentially toxic emissions released from the medical waste incinerator next door. Community leaders, who have been working on these issues separately, came together at the end of January to combine their efforts and develop a plan to begin to address these issues in their neighborhood. CHEJ was able to help the participants prioritize their problems and identify other community groups they should involve. CHEJ will continue to provide organizing assistance to this effort.

Environmental Alliance of Northern Florida (EANOF) in Mayo is getting organized to stop a plan to build a coal pulverizing plant that will burn coal to produce energy and that has targeted their community because of the availability of free water!   All of the energy generated would go to homes outside the county.  EANOF is concerned about emissions of mercury and other toxics from the proposed plant.  Mayo is also the home of several other polluting plants and has decided that “Enough is EANOF!

Grassroots activists from across Florida joined CPOC and CHEJ for a weekend leadership development conference in Orlando last month. The conference provided organizing and science training, and was put on with the assistance of a statewide steering committee. Activists deepened their organizing skills, learned from each other, and established valuable connections.  The meeting included three roundtable sessions that focused on local issues. The Florida Alliance for Healthy Indoor Environments led one session that created a work plan for the coming year, and shared progress from last year including co-launching the Disney Go Green Campaign, and creating the “What’s Gotten Into Your Soap?” green cleaning packet. Another roundtable allowed pesticide activists representing organic farmers, farm workers, and consumer networks to share their experiences and provide a beginning for the development of deeper collaborations. In the third roundtable, groups fighting proposed or existing polluting facilities shared their common experiences. More intensive, locally based meetings will follow in the coming year, as well as quarterly state-wide conference calls to continue to develop this activist network.

Citizens Against Toxic Exposures (CATE) in Pensacola helped form the Bay Area Safe Air Coalition (BASAC) to address air pollution problems in the Pensacola Bay area. Last February, CATE and BASAC welcomed Hilton Kelley, director of Community In-Power Development Association of Port Arthur, TX to their community where he collected air samples using a portable monitoring device called the “UV Hound.” This device detects industrial chemicals immediately at the time of the sampling. CATE and BASAC are using the results from this testing to bring attention to the polluting facilities on the Bay and to pressure the state to take steps to improve air quality.

After struggling for several years in Pensacola, Panther Parents Against Pollution won relocation for students at a contaminated school site! Four years ago, after her daughter investigated the history and prior uses of two Superfund sites near her school for her 7th grade history fair project, a concerned parent and environmental activist began organizing to win relocation of the students at the Brown Barge Middle School. Migrating contaminants from two nearby toxic sites, including the Escambia Wood Treating Superfund site, home of “Mt. Dioxin,” posed serious threats to the school. Next year, thanks to the relentless efforts of Panther Parents Against Pollution, students will no longer attend classes atop soil contaminated with dioxins and other dangerous chemicals.

Joy Towles Ezell from Help our Polluted Environment in Perry traveled all the way to Washington, DC to attend the release of the National Academies’ long-awaited review of the USEPA’s dioxin reassessment.  She challenged the committee chair who described dioxin exposures as a “thing of the past,” making clear that people are still being exposed to dioxins at very high levels and are sick and dying from these exposures.  Her testimony was a cold reminder of the real world suffering occurring as industry and government continue to stall regulations to protect the public.  The committee’s review supported the basic scientific conclusions in the EPA report including that dioxin is a human carcinogen and that the non-cancer effects pose serious public health risks.  See CHEJ’s press release for more information..

The Saufley Field Citizens for Closing the Dump held a rally at a church in Pensacola that was attended by more than 400 people including invited state and county leaders and government officials.  The residents were fuming over uncontrolled fires that have been burning on and off for months at the Saufley Construction and Demolition Landfill.  They have repeatedly complained of asthma problems, foul odors, noise and truck traffic to no avail.  Debris at the landfill has been piled so high that it towers over the neighboring homes.  State tests confirm that the landfill is polluting the local groundwater with benzene, iron, aluminum, sulfate, and manganese.  The group wants the landfill shut down and has successfully pressured the Escambia County Commissioners who passed an ordinance to control the landfill operations.