Washington, DC — Florida’s Environmental Secretary confirmed the link between water pollution and “the exponential growth” of algal blooms in an email she sent to Governor Jeb Bush, released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This admission by Secretary Colleen Castille belies adamant assertions by state officials that there is no proven tie between pollution and the recent increase in harmful algal blooms plaguing Florida coastal waters.
The August 16, 2006 message Secretary Castille sent to Governor Bush from her Blackberry reads:
“Governor. Here is a succinct overview on bluegreen algae…We do know that there is a connection between nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). And the exponential growth of algae. But we don’t know at what concentration levels the bacteria becomes toxic…Colleen”
Bluegreen algae is the common name for the 20 varieties of algae found in Florida’s freshwaters. When an algae population greatly multiplies, it is called a bloom. An algal bloom can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. The blooms often release toxins that are harmful to both humans and aquatic life.
According to documents released by PEER last month, pollution is driving a dramatic increase in the number, size and duration of harmful algal blooms in Florida’s lakes, estuaries and coastal waters. In response to the PEER disclosures, state officials have vigorously denied any causal connection. This statement by Cindy Heil of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is typical of the position the state has maintained for some time disputing any link:
“Scientists are still debating the issue. The evidence to date suggests there is no direct link.”
“The issue of algal blooms resembles a regional version of what is happening on a national level with global warming – a Bush administration is denying the science linking human pollution to a disastrous natural reaction,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former water enforcement attorney with the state Department of Environmental Protection. “Florida needs to stop pretending the explosion of algal blooms has nothing to do with significantly elevated levels of pollution in our waters.”
The state has downplayed the growing scientific consensus that pollution is the trigger for the spike in larger, longer-lasting and more toxic episodes. Harmful algal blooms have also become more pronounced in areas, such as Southwest Florida, which are experiencing increased water pollution due to a construction boom and massive destruction of wetlands.
“Hopefully, our new Governor will listen directly, without political filters, to independent scientists about what can be done to reduce harmful algal blooms,” Phillips added, referring to the recent election of Attorney General Charlie Crist as governor. “Florida also needs an Environmental Secretary who will be as honest with the public as she is with her boss.”