Worse than Snakes and Alligators: Florida’s Toxic Algae Blooms Spell Death

Washington (GGM) Analysis | March 20, 2021 by Attorney Michael WellsPodcast– Legal Fact and Fiction

All this time people believed Florida’s snakes and alligators might kill them, when, in reality, the toxic algae blooms are the real threat. For two decades, Florida has struggled to control blue green algae that periodically covers the bottom of Lake Okeechobee, which threatens the state’s tourist industry as well as the once pristine coastline and waters. The blooms are fueled by phosphorus, a key ingredient in fertilizers used on nearby farms and ranches in Orlando and Kissimmee. The algae has killed millions of fish, hundreds of manatees, and it causes ALS and Alzheimers and even death in people. The algae is only getting worse, in particular since 2016, and climate change exacerbates the problem.  

The heart of the matter. The problem mostly comes from 50,000 metric tons of phosphorus carpeting the bottom of Lake Okeechobee. Phosphorus flows out of the lake through rivers and streams and into the Atlantic Ocean all along the coast killing wildlife and putting a damper on tourism with its guacamole like sludge.

While the problem did not originate in Lake Okeechobee, as it likely came from farms and ranches along the Kissimmee River, the lake is the eye of the storm that threatens everything living in Florida. Considering algae thrives in heat, Florida’s problem (ultimately everyone’s problem) will only grow worse if drastic steps are not taken soon. 

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How this impacts you personally? Cynics may see this as akin to “save the rainforest,” which we certainly should do, but they cannot deny that this affects them personally. It does if they are concerned about dying, or, should they be lucky enough to survive, getting Alzheimer’s or ALS. The problem has gotten so bad that the State of Florida has twice declared states of emergency in 2016 and 2018.  Even Governor Ron DeSantis (no big friend to the environment or mask wearing) is concerned, enough so that he made cleaning up the toxic algae a focal point of his campaign, and he created the South Florida Water Management District, which is charged with protecting the water in 16 South Florida counties.

Of course, none of this will matter if something is not done to fix the pipes and sewer systems, which are rotting, and, from 2009-2019, released 1.6 million gallons of waste into the state’s estuaries. This waste also helped fuel the algae blooms, lest the state’s farmers and cattle ranchers think they are being unfairly picked on about this crisis.

Maybe you do not care about Florida, and you think the state only matters as a backdrop for Carl Hiaason novels. Yes, it is a great setting, but it is a HUGE state. And Florida’s problems usually become everyone’s problems.

What can you do about this? While you may not live in Florida, this still affects you. Perhaps you should consider not eating beef as much of it comes from Florida, and, as the algae shows, it is terrible for the environment. You may also want to consider donating money to organizations devoted to the clean up of the algae, or, you can Google “Florida’s toxic algae blooms” and see what else you can figure out.

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Next Steps

  • Stop eating beef (or do not eat so much of it);
  • Consider your own carbon footprint and how this adds to climate change, which affects Florida and wherever anyone lives;
  • Donate to groups that help clean up the algae and the damage caused by it;
  • Contact your local, state, and federal representatives and urge them to pass environmental legislation and create regulations that actually protect and clean up the environment.

All of these problems seem so ominous because they are, but they are only going to get worse if people refuse to do anything.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
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Hanford Superfund Site, Part 2: Worry About It for 24,100 Years

Washington (GGM) Analysis | March 13, 2021 by Attorney Michael Wells

Do you ever think about the vastness of space? Or do you ponder if the universe never ends and is expanding for eternity? On a more personal level, perhaps Earth will be destroyed by an exploding star one day. Maybe you worry about such things, but here on Earth there are known threats, namely the Hanford Superfund Site that will be a problem for possibly 24,100 years, which is the half-life of Plutonium contained on the site, the source of Plutonium used to make the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki that ended World War II. And the Hanford site is filled with Plutonium, which is buried in 177 storage tanks within sight of the Columbia River.

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Heart of the Matter. Climate change has been exacerbated by the oil and coal industries. Nuclear energy appears to some a more viable alternative. Hardly. The Hanford Site shows this to be a faulty premise, especially when you consider what happens when the radioactive waste leaks into the ground and into the water. Because it happened in May 2017 when the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, which holds rail cars full of solid waste, collapsed releasing tons of radioactive waste into the water and soil. Then in December 2018 radioactive dust was released from the site into the air. These are but a few of the problems, and it does not take a complex understanding of climate change and nuclear waste to imagine the scale of the problem.

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How this impacts you personally? The chemical names are long, and the science is hard to follow. But the main reason people should care about the Hanford Site is a shot-glass of liquid out of one of the underground tanks is enough to instantly kill everyone within 100 yards. Of course the tanks have a history of leaking. In fact, whether or not this waste contained in 177 tanks leaks further may depend upon if the concrete that makes the tanks and the caulking that glues the tanks together can hold up long term.

As stated in the first article on this topic, there are 56 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste, made up of 1,800 chemicals. Right now 700,000 gallons of waste are classified as high-level, and that may leak into the Columbia River. And these chemicals will be around for thousands of years. If the tanks crack or otherwise fall apart, there is enough waste to wipe out civilization, a process that will surely be hastened by climate change if something is not done.

To bring this down to a more personal level, this waste causes and has caused bone cancer in many of the people, who live near the site. Imagine if this waste were spread on a wider scale, which could easily happen if it seeps into the groundwater, burns due to a forest fire, or some other calamity such as a flood occurs, all of which could be caused by climate change.

What can you do about this? Of course this problem is almost metaphysical because it will last for so long it is beyond comprehension, and it is on a physical scale that is difficult to grasp. But Congress controls the budget for the cleanup and containment efforts, so it really matters who is in Congress. It cannot be people against regulation, who care nothing for the environment. That will not work at all because it will only increase the risk for everyone. If you do nothing else, think about this when you vote next time.

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Next Steps

  • Learn more about this problem. Check out the Hanford Challenge.
  • Educate yourself on nuclear waste.
  • Learn more about climate change.
  • As always, contact your local, state, and federal officials, in particular, Congress people, who may vote on legislation that affects Hanford and other sites like it.

The Hanford Site will likely always be a problem, but people can take steps to make sure the problem is contained. If it is not contained, it will be a disaster of cataclysmic proportions.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
Groundbreaking YA book series for all ages. Not only a gripping modern day nail-biter with Machiavellian villains, but also one that opens our eyes to the brutal war going on beneath our feet that controls our destiny, despite our obliviousness to this potentially civilization-destroying threat.

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