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Florida House committee amends biosolids bill to strengthen state biosolid regulations

A Florida House committee has amended a bill that would have banned biosolids in the upper St. Johns River watershed to only require regulations for biosolids management throughout the state to be specified statewide.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee amended House Bill 405 to say that it's the "best interest of the state" to:

 

  • Regulate biosolids management statewide to minimize nutrient pollution in waterways.

  • Speed up the implementation of any recommendations made by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's biosolids technical advisory committee.

  • Speed up the implementation of any "innovative technologies" that process biosolids.

Biosolids are partially treated human sewage sludge used as fertilizer.

DEP's biosolids technical advisory committee recommended earlier this year that the department should modify its current permitting rules to minimize nutrient pollution in Florida waterways.

They also recommended:

  • Increasing the inspection rate of land application.

  • Developing site specific groundwater and/or surface water monitoring protocols to detect any nutrient migration from dumping sites to water.

  • Developing and conducting biosolid and nutrient management research on any nutrient run-off through surface and groundwater flow.

  • Promoting "innovative technology pilot projects" for biosolids processing

A similar bill filed by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, was approved by the Senate.

The bill, filed by Vero Beach Republican Rep. Erin Grall, would have originally banned the spread of biosolids in the upper St. Johns River watershed, which includes Blue Cypress Lake and Indian River County, unless a landowner could "affirmatively demonstrate" nutrients from the sludge won't run off the land and cause pollution downstream.

Indian River County algae

A TCPalm investigation published in June showed Pressley Ranch, southwest of the lake, began spreading biosolids on more than 3,000 acres of pasture in 2013 to help grow Bahia grass for cattle grazing. Rising phosphorus levels from can — and two weeks later did — cause a highly toxic blue-green algae bloom in the lake.

A water sample from a Blue Cypress Lake algae bloom tested in mid-June contained the toxin microcystin at a level of 4,700 parts per billion, according to the Ocean Research and Conservation Association in Fort Pierce. The World Health Organization considers microcystin levels higher than 2,000 parts per billion "very highly hazardous" in recreational contact.

Microcystin can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested, and rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled. Drinking water with the toxins can cause long-term liver disease.

A 2013 state law banned Class B biosolids in South Florida, including the Lake Okeechobee and St. Lucie River watersheds, which includes Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Data from the St. Johns River Water Management District shows that after the ban, people started to spread biosolids north of that boundary including the St. Johns River watershed.

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