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House Says No To Tracking Sickness Caused By Toxic Algae

An amendment to a water pollution bill wanting to track toxic algae deaths and illnesses failed in the Florida House Tuesday. It didn’t pass because opponents say it’s unnecessary and wouldn’t help the bill’s job improving the state’s water quality. Those behind the bill say, not voting for the bill was a big mistake.

Toxic algae blooms in Florida’s waterways have upset environmentalists for quite some time. They’re dangerous to humans, livestock and wildlife. But how many people and how much livestock and wildlife the toxic alga affects is unknown. The amendment stricken Tuesday would have answered that question, says EarthJustice Attorney David Guest, “The question is: what are the actual numbers? And the answer is, ‘well that’s why we need tracking, we don’t have them.’”

The amendment was attached to a bill seeking to return control of water quality solely back to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, instead of the current joint system with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental groups are wary of the bill. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle-Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) says, her amendment requiring the state to track the number of related deaths and illnesses would have ensured the State is doing a proper job to keep the waterways clean.

“This amendment only is for accountability. We need the accountability to know whether we have these types of incidents that brought these numeric nutrients to our attention,” said Rep. Rehwinkle-Vasilinda.

Numeric nutrients like the chemicals phosphorus and nitrogen overloading Florida’s rivers, lakes, streams, and canals. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) wanted to know if these incidents of illness and death really do happen and how often.

“Can you provide us some specific examples of where and when a dog has died within three hours of exposure?” said Rep. Gaetz

Rep. Rehwinkle-Vasilinda did not have an answer.

“Well if the underlining premise of the amendment is that these events are occurring, but we can’t identify a single event where they have occurred, does that, perhaps, limit the need for the amendment,” said Rep. Gaetz.

Rep. Jake Raburn (R- Valrico) and sponsor of the bill agreed, adding the amendment does nothing to provide more information to help solve the water pollution problem. When it was first filed, there was an extra part to the amendment saying after a hundred documented cases of death or illness the state would have to adopt federal water quality standards. That was removed to make the amendment more likely to pass.

And though the final vote was split, the amendment will not advance with the bill to the final vote before hitting Governor Rick Scott’s desk. EarthJustice Attorney David Guest says they’ll return to the courts if it becomes law.