Tag Archives: Pesticides

Pesticide Contamination in the Region of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

 

Muck from the SLR/IRL region. Public photo.
Muck from the SLR/IRL region. Muck holds pesticides and other chemical residue. Public photo.

When I got up this morning, I saw a Facebook post by Delta Gamma sorority sister, Katie Schwader. Katie, who runs a page entitled “Love Your Neighbor,” had posted: “As September wraps up, I encourage all to join the Support Peyton McCaughey Facebook page. ” (https://www.facebook.com/PeytonRecovery?fref=ts)

Most of us are familiar with the tragic story…

Peyton McCaughey…the 10-year-old Martin County, Palm City boy who lost 90 percent of his motor skills after exposure to chemicals and pesticides used to fumigate his family’s home for termites. (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/family-alleges-pest-fumigation-left-boy-severely-injured/story?id=33539389)

According to TC Palm reporter Paul Ivice: “...the three-bedroom house was fumigated for termites by Terminix in August 2014, but the termites returned. “Under the direction of Terminix, the home was re-tented and fumigated” on Aug. 14 by Sunland…Zythor was used..Sunland didn’t use the proper dosage…and “didn’t properly ventilate what was pumped into the home to kill the termites…”

Now this 10 year old child is “not able to walk, or even lift his own head,” according to Ed Gribben Jr., the brother of mother and Martin County Hight School assistant principal, Lori Ann McCaughey. 

Is there any greater nightmare than this? I cannot imagine…We all must support this family.

Family photo of Peyton Mc Caughey as shared on the Facebook page for his families' fundraiser.
Family photo of Peyton Mc Caughey as shared on the Facebook page for his families’ fundraiser.

Fundraiser this weekend: (https://www.facebook.com/events/563020633835889/)

 

Ten Mile Creek sits in a passive operating state.
An altered Ten Mile Creek watershed… (JTL 2014)

Chemicals and pesticides are very dangerous. And many of them are lurking in our river…

Image from USGA DEP report, 2003.
Image from USGA DEP report SLR pesticide contamination, 2003.
Cover of USGS/DEP Report
Cover of USGS/DEP Report, 2003.

High levels of pesticides also exist in areas of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and many of us are not even aware of this. Most of the chemicals end up in the sediment or “muck” at the bottom of the river, so even if issues of contamination are addressed, the river bottom remains poisonous.

The following is an excerpt from a the “Water Resources Investigations Report Occurrence and Distribution of Pesticides in the St Lucie River Watershed” prepared by A.C. Lietz, of the US Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in 2003. I wonder how much has changed in just over ten years? I could not find a follow-up report.

An excerpt reads:

“The St. Lucie River watershed is a valuable estuarine eco- system and resource in south- central Florida. The watershed has undergone extensive changes over the last century because of anthropogenic activities. These activities have resulted in a complex urban and agricultural drainage network that facilitates the transport of contaminants, including pesticides, to the primary canals and then to the estuary. Historical data indicate that aquatic life criteria for selected pesticides have been exceeded. To address this concern, a reconnaissance was conducted to assess the occurrence and distribution of selected pesticides within the
St. Lucie River watershed.” –A.C. Lietz, USGA, 2003

Full report: (http://fl.water.usgs.gov/PDF_files/wri02_4304_lietz.pdf)

If you take a look at this write-up, you will see the pesticide contamination and locations  listed, and the “BMPs,” Best Management Practices, recommended to correct the situation. These pesticides have killed and distorted many fish and other species that used to live at the bottom of this area of the river. As the river bottom remains full of chemicals and grasses can’t grow, many animals and fish never came back. Some that remain have been reported sick and malformed.

The second publication we should all be familiar with is the 1995 DEP report “Pesticide Contamination in 10 Mile Creek” by Gregory A. Graves and Douglas G. Stone. This report is about the agricultural contamination of Ten Mile Creek, the headwaters of the north fork of the St Lucie River, in St Lucie County—- this creek runs south into Martin County. Believe it or not, the North Fork of the St Lucie River is  a state designated “aquatic preserve.”

An aquatic preserve! Sometimes things just don’t make sense, do they?

Conclusion from report:

” Fourteen separate pesticides were detected in the water and sediment of Ten Mile Creek, several at concentrations exceeding applicable water quality standards. Some of these concentrations appear to be the highest found anywhere in Florida surface waters (Storet). ….The true scope of the adverse impact upon the resident biota may be underestimated due to unobserved events. Ten Mile Creek is classified by the State of Florida as Class III waters. As such, these waters are presumed suitable for “recreation, propagation. (FAC 62-302.530). The contamination and resultant biological impairment documented constitutes a loss of Class III function for Ten Mile Creek waters.”

The full report is here:
(http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/tenmile_creek.pdf)

 

How was the situation resolved? The report states:

“Several State of Florida biological and chemical water quality standards were violated. Recommendations include application of best management practices (BMP), review of pesticide use within the basin, regional water management and expanded study of the implications of pesticides entering the North Fork St .Lucie River OFW. (Outstanding Florida Waters). A cooperative panel including local agricultural concerns is recommended to resolve this situation with minimal conflict.”

That’s nice they resolved this terrible situation with “minimal conflict,”but I do hope the situation has been resolved; I would like to get my hands on a follow-up report that is easy to access on-line…

 

Historic Mistreatment of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

This is a photo of a sewer pipe going straight into the Indian River Lagoon. (ca. 1950 photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
This is a photo of a sewer pipe going straight into the Indian River Lagoon. (Royal Poinciana Cottages, Jensen, ca. 1950 photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Draining oil, changing oil, over the IRL. Jensen 1930s. Photo courtesy of Thurlow archives.
Changing oil over the IRL, Pitchford Filling Station, Jensen 1920/30s. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow archives.)

As bad as things are today for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon, in the past we did things that today would be inconceivable, like having sewer lines drain directly into the river, or draining oil into the lagoon from a car…. For centuries people have put waste into the water so it could just “flush away.” Things  like this were done when very few people lived along the river and the waterways  could actually handle this misuse. Today with over a million people living along the 156 mile lagoon such ignorance  is not an option; we know better now. It is interesting to wonder what photos from today will look so atrocious as these above  in the future? Lake Okeechobee and canal releases full of filth? Fertilizing one’s yard? Herbicide and pesticide use by the water?  Septic tanks? Only  time will tell… and it always does.

Understanding Point and Non-Point Pollution, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides "run-off" crops during a rain storm. This is an example of non-point pollution. Lynda Betts, United States Dept. of Agriculture. (Photo, public domain.)
Fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides “run-off” crops into a canal during a rain storm. This is an example of “non-point pollution.” Lynda Betts, United States Dept. of Agriculture. (Photo, public domain.)

There are many types of pollution that affect the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon but two words you will hear over and over are “point” and “non-point pollution.” These are important words to understand especially today as we fight to save our rivers.

Point pollution is basically pollution that you can pin-point coming out of a “pipe.” Point pollution is associated with industry. For instance, a waster water treatment plant that has a pipe releasing into the river is point pollution. In the late 1800s and early 1900s some residences, businesses and industries just let their pollution and or sewage go directly into the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Yuk!

This practice improved with the advent of sewer systems, septic and organized cities but there were/are still direct pipes releasing very unclean water until very recently. Recognizing the impacts of discharges from wastewater treatment plants, the Florida Legislature passed the Indian River Act (Chapter 90-262) in 1990 requiring waste water treatment plants to cease discharging their effluent, somewhat processed poop,  into the lagoon. Because it was easy to pinpoint exactly where these industrial wastewater points are/were located, it is fairly easy to regulate them.

The lagoon and we have befitted from the Indian River Act 90-262 but we still have problems.

Non-point pollution, unlike point source pollution,  is pollution that is hard to pin-point because it is coming from “everywhere.” On average it rains 50 inches each year along the Treasure Coast. Highways, parking lots, people’s yards, leaky septic tanks, and agriculture all combine to create a cocktail of oils, heavy metals, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, viruses, bacteria and other pollutants that run from flowing rain water into area canals and then straight into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

To complicate things more, cities and counties can regulate residential  applications (for instance many have recently passed strict fertilizer ordinance outlawing the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application during rainy season,) but cities are not allowed  to regulate agriculture even if is located in their city or county.

Agriculture is exempt from such laws. Agriculture is regulated and overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture recognizing the need to abate fertilizer and chemical runoff does promote “best management practices,” helping farmers work to lower phosphorus and nitrogen runoff but this is voluntary and not required. Most farmers do comply but it is not easy to judge and measure so agriculture runoff continues to significantly add to river pollution across our nation and state as we know from our C-44 canal that dumps mostly agriculture basin runoff into our rivers.

You will often hear people say, “We must stop pollution at the source!” This is a good idea and our state and federal agencies are doing it with point source pollution but not with non-point source pollution.

Perhaps one day every yard and every agriculture field will have to take a portion of their land to hold rain runoff so the pollutants seep into the earth before they go to our waterways? Perhaps one day the Department of Environmental Protection and the US Environmental Protection Agencies will become more hard-core rather than coming up with programs like TMDLs and BMP–Total Maximum Daily Loads for phosphorus and nitrogen and Basin Management Action Plans, because although those will help over time, like 30 years, we don’t seem to have a lot of time left.

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Point Source Pollution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_source_pollution)
Non Point Pollution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonpoint_source_pollution)
Best Management Practices (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/bmps.html)
TMDL/BMAPS FDEP (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/tmdl/)
IRL Study Guide, pg. 11 Point/Non Point Pollution: (http://t.co/LqUx4eqxS1)

C-23 and its Destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Bessey Creek in 1965, is the exiting point for C-23 into the St Lucie River. The canal was  built between 1959 and  1961.
Bessey Creek and a newly constructed C-23 photographed in 1965. The creek  is the exiting point for C-23 into the St Lucie River. The canal was built between 1959 and 1961. As development of the surrounding lands has increased so has the pollution from the canal. (Photo archives of Sandra Thurlow)

There are three destructive canals that empty into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, C-44 built in the 1920s, and  C-23 and C-24, built later, between 1959 and 1961. They all over time have destroyed the health and integrity of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

C-23 is the canal that boarders northern Martin and southern St Lucie Counties. It was built by the Army Corp of Engineers as part of the Central and and South Florida Flood Control Project that came into being in a “second” gigantic  round of federal funds invested in Florida after a hurricane and extreme flooding in 1947 because, basically, people had built and started farming in areas throughout south Florida that were wetlands or swamps.  The goal of the canal was to divert waters that would have “gone south,” and possibly even north into the St John’s River to the eastern, coastal waters.  As usual, the ACOE  was very successful at the complete cost of the environment.

Thus the C-23 canal drains a 175 square foot basin that includes parts of Okeechobee and St Lucie Counties that originally did not run into the St Lucie River. Once drained, these lands were primarily developed into citrus groves and other agriculture . According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the “urban land use, at the eastern end of the basin, includes solid waste disposal; light industrial, and golf courses.”

C-23 is a filthy canal. It delivers suspended solids, nutrients, fertilizers, and pesticides such as ethion, norflurazon, simazine, bromacil. Metals such as copper and  lead have also been found in the surrounding sediments with concentrations high enough to “constitute toxicity” to fish, seagrasses,  and other animals. You may recall even recently in the news,  a sheepshead, with a huge pink tumor caught right in this area. DEP (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/c23.pdf); Tumored fish(http://martincountytimes.com/fish-with-large-tumor-on-head-found-in-palm-citys-bessey-creek-near-st-lucie-estuary)

My middle school aged niece, Mary, lives across the canal in North River Shores;  she chose to do her science fair project on the C-23 this year and found that the canal had the highest level of phosphorus of the three canals. As she grows up, her generation will be working to fix our and our grandparents’ over zealous accomplishments and mistakes. Although our federal, state and local government claims that we’re “working on getting the water right,” it seems like we could do more and a little faster to help them… 

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