EPA Underestimated Number of Polluted Florida Streams, Lakes and Rivers
Floridians may end up paying a few more pennies a day in the coming years to upgrade outdated sewer systems that are contaminating public water supplies, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said in a report on March 6.
The report says that even more Florida lakes, streams, rivers and springs are polluted than previously thought, and that earlier estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) underestimated the scope of the problem.
In predicting costs, the EPA estimated that preventing sewage, manure and fertilizer contamination in Florida waters would cost Floridians less than a dollar a month—or about three cents a day.
Today’s National Academy of Sciences report says that, since more Florida waters are polluted than the EPA estimated, it could cost more to prevent pollution. The report doesn’t specify how much.
“Even if you doubled the EPA’s cost estimate—which this report doesn’t do—you’re still talking about spending about a nickel a day for clean water. I think it’s a fair price to pay to stop toxic green slime from breaking out on our waterways,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.
The contaminants in sewage, manure, and fertilizer spur green, slimy toxic algae outbreaks on Florida waterways that can pollute drinking water supplies, kill livestock and pets, cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse. Pictures are available by clicking here and here.
The pollution can be prevented by upgrading aging sewer systems, using smarter fertilizer application techniques and implementing modern manure management on agricultural operations.
“The polluters have been exaggerating and trying to scare the public so that they won’t have to clean up their mess,” Guest said. “Face it—It’s a lot cheaper for them to keep using our public waters as their private sewers—and that’s what’s been happening for years.”
The EPA decided 14 years ago that limits on the pollutants that feed slime outbreaks were necessary. Three years ago, the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed that specific pollution limits must be quickly implemented—but efforts to establish limits were met by a massive campaign by polluting industries to stop or delay the new rules.
“No private party has the right to contaminate the public’s water, and this is why standards must be set to protect everyone’s health and safety,” said Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller. “People are tired of the roadblocks these polluters keep throwing up. We want our waters cleaned up.”
More than 17,000 people have written to the White House during the past month, supporting the EPA limits. The White House letters came in response to a grassroots call to action from several environmental groups.
After years of seeing toxic algae on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. In 2009, the EPA set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in the water.
Earthjustice is now challenging the ineffective standards to control this pollution proposed by the Florida DEP. The DEP’s proposed rules only require studies when an algae outbreak takes place. No corrective action can be required until the studies are completed, a process that takes five to ten years. An administrative hearing challenging the DEP’s rules concluded March 5.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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