Thinking About Tomorrow Today

Charles Ray presented on the topic: “Lake Okeechobee and Environmental Justice”, at the Florida Brownfields Association Environmental Justice and Social Equity Symposium.  The focus of the presentation is to bring attention to: (1) negative environmental conditions impacting their community health, (2) the impacts to the local economy and (3) to obtain assistance eliminating impacts to Brownfields Communities by identifying the sources of the nutrients feeding the toxic algae.  The symposium was hosted by the City of New Smyrna Beach.  The workshop’s theme, “Environmental Justice and Social Equity: Thinking About Tomorrow Today”.

The concern is the toxic pollution of cyanotoxins from algae in Lake Okeechobee and the negative impacts to the health and economic wellbeing of communities surrounding the Lake.  NASA reported that 90% of the 730 square mile Lake Okeechobee is covered by toxic algae blooms.  Okeechobee is the Florida’s largest freshwater lake and drinking-water repository.  The three most noted pollutants to the lake are farm nutrients, manure and septic tanks.  Local communities rely on the lake for food, tourism and the sales of fish to supplement household incomes.  However, the Lake as an asset has become a health and economic problem to all homeowners and businesses connected to the Lake via the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers.  Unfortunately, there are disproportionately higher negative environmental impacts in many low income and minority communities.  The EPA and Florida Brownfields Programs are designed to empower communities and other stakeholders.  EPA defines Environmental Justice as the “fair treatment for people of all races, cultures, and incomes, regarding the development of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”

The Florida Brownfields Association is committed to helping restore health and wealth to low income and minority communities located in Brownfields areas.  To that end, the FBA has established an Environmental Justice and Public Health Committee to address this important issue.