MEDIA ADVISORY: July 23, 2013
DEP TAKES A MAJOR STEP TO BETTER PROTECT FLORIDA’S BEACHES
~Advanced laboratory technology will better identify pollution sources~
TALLAHASSEE – This week, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection launches an initiative to make Florida’s beach waters and other recreational waters even safer than they are now. The Department now has new laboratory tools and assessment methods to identify and reduce the sources of pathogens in recreational waters. The Department will develop new rules that refine water quality standards to take advantage of this new technology and the data that will be available to make beach and recreational waters safer.
The Department is engaging a technical advisory committee to advise on the scientific intricacies of the rules since they will be implemented using cutting-edge scientific technologies. The panel of experts includes representatives of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, local government and the academic community.
The new laboratory tools will help the Department's scientists quickly identify whether fecal bacteria, an indicator of the possible presence of pathogens, are related to humans, animals or other sources. Armed with that knowledge, we can more quickly act to protect public health. The science needed to set water quality criteria based on direct measurement of pathogens has not yet been developed. Hence, the Department is devising a multi-pronged approach that fully utilizes the latest technologies.
“Measuring fecal bacteria levels is easy,” said Drew Bartlett, Direction of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “Unfortunately, readily distinguishing the sources of the bacteria and the potentially harmful pathogens that may go along with them has been beyond scientific capabilities. We have tools to address the issue now and will craft rules and protocols that guide on the ground action to protect public health.”
The new laboratory equipment and methods use DNA analyses of bacteria and modern tracers, including artificial sweeteners, that persist in the environment, to identify human waste from other sources. With these tools, the Department will be able to establish monitoring protocols and adopt rules that require restoration based on monitoring results.
To make sure Florida’s beaches are the safest in the nation, the Department will propose updates to Florida’s bacteria criteria for recreational waters, applying guidance from EPA. The changes ultimately will be presented to the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission and EPA for approval after a series of technical advisory committee meetings and other public workshops. The first committee meeting will be held August 20 in Tallahassee.
The Department also will propose changes to its water quality assessment strategy to take advantage of the new laboratory tools and land-use surveys to determine where elevated bacteria levels may indicate an increased risk to human health.
At the same time, the Department will develop a procedure, also to be adopted by rule, for calculating the pollutant load reductions and restoration targets necessary to protect public health. Where high bacteria levels are detected, and using the most advanced source tracking capabilities, the Department will direct actions that reduce the sources of the problems and restore water quality. No other State has attempted such a monumental rulemaking effort.
For more information on the recreational bacteria criteria development, see http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wqssp/index.htm.