Drew Bartlett: A health safety net for seafood
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 4:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 4:42 p.m.
The state of Florida is a diverse ecosystem that supports an abundance of wildlife in both fresh and salt waters. Floridians, and the scientists at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, understand the importance of protecting the health our aquatic habitats, for their recreational value and to assure that the seafood we enjoy is safe to eat.
The current rules that define Florida’s human health criteria for surface waters are now more than 20 years old –- virtually ancient when compared to how quickly the world moves today. But after a decade of data collection, risk analysis, scientific peer review and public debate, the department is moving forward with additional and refined surface water quality criteria. Protecting Florida’s marine resources, especially as a source of food, is one of our most important roles as an agency, and we are moving forward with the best science available today.
Historically, the department has regulated only 36 pollutants related to human health. The department is now proposing to almost double that number by adding 34 new contaminants to the list and updating criteria for 33 of the original 36 contaminants. These criteria cover pollutants in all types of waterbodies within the state -– rivers, lakes and coastal waters, both brackish and offshore, and consider Florida’s most at-risk populations, including young children and pregnant women.
These new criteria were considered April 23 by the Environmental Regulation Commission, and will be revisited in the fall. The commission also approved the department’s proposed dissolved oxygen criteria to protect aquatic life.
The department has consulted continuously with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in developing human health criteria, but we have applied more stringent safeguards when calculating our final numbers. The end result: in a side-by-side comparison with EPA’s standard approach, the department’s proposed criteria are more stringent in every single case.
Because the health of our water bodies is vital, the department assembled the best and brightest to peer review and critique our standards. As a result, our scientific methodology has been endorsed by Florida’s state toxicologist from the Department of Health and other scientists who are experts in toxicology and risk assessment.
These updates to our human health criteria would protect all Floridians including kids, expectant mothers and self-sufficient fishermen. The department will also continue to collect data and incorporate emerging science so our standards keep pace in the future. My colleagues and I eat local seafood just like you and your family.
It is essential that all of us have confidence that what we eat is safe. Fishing and shellfish harvesting will thrive if our rivers, lakes and coastal waters have strong standards to protect them -- and Florida’s economy and our water-dependent culture will thrive right along with them.
Drew Bartlett is director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.