I am an only child, but I have always had a fourth family member living with me, my mom, and my dad. No, it wasn’t another human or a pet, it was a pager. I grew up with first responder parents. My father is a volunteer firefighter and EMT, and my mother is a volunteer EMT with the local First Aid Squad. With all the tragedies happening to first responders around the country, I want to shed some light on what it’s like being a child from a first responder household.
Being a first responder means you serve at a moments notice, not when it’s convenient for you. It means that you spend a lot of extra hours going through training, having meetings, and serving your community. These people put themselves into dangerous situations because they want to help, not because they have to, or because they get paid to do it. My parents don’t get paid at all.
Over the years I have learned to live with a pager or should I say pagers. We have 2 pagers down stairs, 1 pager up stairs, as well as a pager in my Dad’s car. My parents also have it set up to receive phone calls with a corresponding email for an emergency, just in case they aren’t near one of their 4 pagers. You learn to live with the fact that the pagers will inevitably interrupt conversations, meals, and family gatherings. As soon as it goes off you know you better be quiet so they can hear what kind of call they are about to respond to, or you will get “shushed”.
I’ve had many dinners cut short due to an emergency they needed to run off to, and can’t even tell you how many times a call has come through while we are driving somewhere and my parents whipped the car around, drove right to the scene, and left me in the car.
I’ve spent many school nights spent in the truck bay doing homework while my parents completed mandatory training or attended their monthly meetings. While I used to be a little kid who became easily annoyed by all of this, I have become an adult who is very understanding and thankful to have selfless people like my parents in this world.
My parents have run into burning houses to save people and animals, they have been exposed to chemicals and diseases, pulled unconscious people out of totaled cars, brought people back to life through CPR, been swung at and spit on by drunk people, and have seen more dead people than they can count. I’ve experienced my dad being stationed during 9/11, while I, as a nine year old sat at the first aid building watching the news with my mom scared my dad wasn’t going to come home. During Hurricane Sandy both my parents spent their time working at the shelter the First Aid provided, helping the community, instead of taking care of themselves and our house which was affected. They’ve left a lot of parties, Christmas mornings, and Thanksgiving dinners to fight fires, and save lives.
I’ll never forget my parents running out of the house during a state of emergency blizzard to help a man who was having a heart attack. They pulled out of the driveway and weren’t even 5 feet past our house when the car got stuck in the snow. That didn’t stop them. They left the car and ran through the snow to the scene 2 blocks away, met up with the ambulance and helped the patient in need.
I have two of the hardest working parents who give back more to their community as volunteer first responders than most people do in their lifetime. In this time of criticism towards first responders and the false media perceptions surrounding them, it is difficult for me to understand why so many individuals do not see the hard work, the empathy, and the selflessness that goes into these first responders daily responsibilities.
I just want to thank my parents, as well as all of the other first responders who give their time and their safety to helping others. I have grown up learning to give appreciation to these people and that is something that will never change. When you come across one of these men and women, please take a moment to let them know how much you appreciate their hard work. While they do not do it to be recognized, they definitely deserve to be. So next time you want to negatively criticize a first responder, think of all their hard work, sacrifice, and most importantly that persons family who is sitting at home anxiously waiting for them to come home.
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-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
With school out for summer and the ongoing Flint water crisis still looming on the minds of administrators and parents alike, many districts are moving to test their drinking water for signs of lead contamination. According to The Washington Post, at least one prominent testing firm is experiencing high demand and is already booked through the start of the school year.
Under current federal regulations, only 10 percent of schools nationwide ― those that rely on water supplies independent of any community utilities ― are actually required to test their water.
Some state lawmakers are moving to change that. In New York, the state legislature last month approved a bill that would be the nation’s first to mandate that public schools test their drinking water for lead. It is currently awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature. Similar legislation has also been proposed in North Carolina. And in May, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered mandatory lead-in-water testing at the state’s schools.
This is important progress in the fight against lead exposure, which can cause brain and nervous system damage, hearing issues, reduced IQ and a myriad of other issues, particularly in children. But there’s reason to remain skeptical, experts say.
One of those experts is Yanna Lambrinidou, a Virginia Tech researcher who has been studying water contamination for many years and in 2010 co-authored the paper “Failing Our Children: Lead In U.S. School Drinking Water” in the journal New Solutions.
The Huffington Post recently spoke with Lambrinidou about this summer’s surge in testing and what solutions there might be for the massive problem.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How much of what is happening now with all this testing is being done to appease parents in the short term vs. working toward a viable long-term solution?
It’s hard to tell for sure. One thing that seems more clear to me is that we seem to be at a crossroads between two paradigms of thought about lead in drinking water. I think the paradigm we are in right now, and that we tend to be in as a nation, is the paradigm that was created by the EPA and by the Lead and Copper Rule that allowed for some lead to flow out of taps that people drank, while at the same time, schools and water utilities can claim that all is OK and that lead is a problem that’s under control.
That same paradigm seems to neglect the scientific evidence that lead in drinking water tends to release sporadically, so that a one-time test at one tap is not always going to capture worse-case lead in water levels at the tap. This paradigm is more of a regulatory compliance, check-the-box paradigm and less of a public health, protective paradigm that would surrender to the inconvenient but non-debatable truth that no lead in drinking water is safe for human consumption.
On one hand, I think this [testing frenzy] is very, very good and long overdue. But where I start to see a little bit of trouble is when I see that there are scientifically unsubstantiated assumptions that guide the way in which the water is being sampled, how the results are being interpreted and how remediation takes place.
I would really like to see a shift to a new paradigm where we accept that as long as there’s lead-bearing plumbing in school water systems, we ought to presume that taps that are not outfitted with a filter, or where there’s no alternative source of water, can expose our children to lead. And we need to address that. Whether it’s intentional or not, using this old paradigm can result in false assurances of safety that are not really backed by the science.
Why do you think this old paradigm on lead in our water has been so prevalent and difficult to break away from?
For many contaminants in drinking water, it’s very natural for a one-time test to do the trick. You find out if you have an opportunistic pathogen, and it’s either there or it isn’t. So the lead issue requires a little bit of mind-bending on our part to realize that lead in water doesn’t work that way. Lead in water can leach from plumbing at very different rates, and those rates can change in response to multiple different factors, so a one-time test can catch it or miss it.
I think there’s a value to conducting thorough testing, especially when every drinking water tap is tested. I know that some schools conduct this testing and just sample a small number of taps at every school, as if that will be representative of what’s happening at every tap. Every tap has its own plumbing materials and configuration, so unless you sample each and every tap, you really can’t generalize from that.
That’s where there’s a leap that seems to me is risky and can leave our children vulnerable ― precisely because this one-time sampling can miss worse-case levels of lead. Usually schools avoid sampling on a Monday morning — in fact, sometimes in their sampling protocols it says something like how water should not be stagnant for more than 12 hours. That’s OK, but it all depends what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to achieve compliance with some regulatory standard and trying to check a box that allows you to tell your parent community you’ve done the right thing, these measures are justifiable. But if you’re really trying to protect the children that attend the school, sampling first thing on a Monday morning — after water has been sitting stagnant over the weekend — could give you some valuable information.
So how do we begin to move forward toward a new paradigm of thinking that is in line with the science of lead in water?
Maybe we can learn something from the experts in childhood lead poisoning and lead paint. There’s a presumption there that lead in the paint does exist if the building was built before a certain year that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I think it’s only reasonable to say this presumption [of lead in the water] should be adopted in schools as well, because it’s not even a hypothetical. Our schools do have lead-bearing plumbing. Period. They do. We know they use lead and brass, so the children drinking that water are vulnerable to exposure.
School districts like Chicago’s — which is on the verge of bankruptcy — have come out recently and said they will spend “whatever it takes” to address this. But it sounds like the best ways to do so could be quite pricey, and many districts don’t have the resources. What are cost-effective steps districts should be taking?
Different school districts, of course, are going to need to decide the cost benefits for themselves given what their specific issues are. Some school districts, like Baltimore, switch to bottled water, and other districts are using filters.
There is at least one school in D.C. (and maybe more) that has four designated drinking water taps, and all the kids know that they go to those four taps and they fill up their water bottles for the day. Those taps have filters on them and they stay on top of replacing the filters. I think this “solution,” if you will, is not a bad idea because expecting all these schools to replace their plumbing right now seems impractical. The money isn’t there. But to wait until the money is there leaves our children vulnerable, and I think no parent is willing to accept that.
Do you think parents will accept some of these solutions that fall short of school districts completely replacing plumbing systems?
Sadly, the history of lead in drinking water in schools shows that it’s usually the parents who corner the schools into testing and informing the school community about the issue and remediating for lead in water. It’s the parents and sometimes teachers who have led the fight for transparency and accountability and ensuring that proactive measures are taken to protect children from exposures. I personally tend to give a lot of credit to the parents for even bringing us to the point we’re in today.
What do you make of the legislation bubbling up in New York, North Carolina and elsewhere that would make testing mandatory for public schools? Would this legislation even be enforceable or is it too early to tell?
I think these states ought to be applauded, but at the same time I do have concerns about legislation that seems to reflect more of the old paradigm of thinking on lead in water. Where there is a requirement for periodic testing, I think “periodic” is a vague term and I know the New York bill talks about first-draw sampling, which we know is likely to miss high lead. I think the idea is that this sampling will be used to identify taps that are considered unsafe and separate them from the taps considered safe, and this kind of diagnosing of taps is, I think, problematic.
Unfortunately, despite what I imagine are everybody’s best intentions to address this issue, these efforts are going to fall short and keep parents assured that lead in water in their children’s school is being addressed. In reality, it’s only being suboptimally addressed.
What should people concerned about this be doing right now to make sure children aren’t still being exposed?
I have the feeling that the leaders in making this shift of paradigm are going to need to be the parents. Paying close attention and educating ourselves about this issue and equipping ourselves with the right information is going to be quite critical. Having enough information to look critically at the legislation being passed in our state or being held up as a model for other states to follow is quite critical.
This is not to criticize these initiatives. I certainly applaud them, but we need to ensure that what we end up putting in place is a proactive approach to this that agrees with and reflects the current scientific understanding of how lead in water works.
Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This has become even more undeniable with the inflated salary cap ― which will raise to a staggering $108 million for the 2016-17 season.
The 2016 version of the NBA’s “second season” has been a whirlwind of utter madness. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers.
No need to get cute here. Landing a top-three NBA player who at 27 years old is just now entering his prime will make you a winner any year. Kevin Durant shocked the world when he chose to head west and join forces with Steph Curry and the record-breaking 73-win Warriors ― the same Warriors that vanquished Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. From a basketball standpoint, landing KD is pure nirvana. The flexibility he provides for Steve Kerr to go small ― Durant at the four and Draymond Green at the five ― is a counterpunch to Cleveland’s small lineup, and anyone else’s for that matter. To put it simply, all the shots that Harrison Barnes (now a Dallas Maverick) missed during the finals will now go to Durant. Moreover, Golden State now possesses perhaps the three best shooters in the world. That’s a scary thought.
What’s also scary is the highway robbery GM Bob Myers pulled off by inking veteran center Zaza Pachulia to a three-year, $15 million deal. The sentiment around the league is that adding Durant is a severe blow, but stealing Pachulia ― an excellent team defender and rebounder ― is an absolute dagger.
Indiana may not be able to beat the Cavs just yet, but it certainly narrowed the gap between itself and Boston, along with Toronto. The trio of Thad Young, Al Jefferson and Jeff Teague all represent upgrades, particularly for a team that ranked 17th in field goal percentage last year. Young’s presence as an athletic, two-way wing who can play off of Paul George is a coup given the influx of wings needed in today’s game. Jefferson may not even start, but he’s the rare NBA big who can still get a bucket with his back to the basket. And Teague, who is just 28, has firmly cemented himself as a tier-two lead guard, a significantly better player than George Hill.
Al Horford may not do anything at an elite level, but he does a whole lot of things really well. Horford’s diverse skill set ― shooting, passing, rebounding ― will allow Brad Stevens to run even more great offense and have the confidence in a reliable defensive center, despite Horford not being a rim protector. Boston has used this summer to build for now (think Horford) and in the future (think about the seemingly endless assortment of draft picks). Danny Ainge has to be thrilled knowing that he has a dynamic young backcourt featuring Avery Bradley and All-Star Isaiah Thomas, both of whom suffered injuries in the playoffs. Thomas will especially benefit from playing with a four-time All-Star center like Horford, who is just 30.
Every Single Free Agent!
We’ve seen our fair share of inflated contracts before: Jerome James, Erick Dampier and Adonal Foyle all come to mind. And yet, never before has it been so fortuitous to be an NBA free agent. Take career backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova. The Aussie tested the market last summer, only to find scant interest and resign for one year and a measly $1.2 million with the Cavs. Now, after seeing a reduced role with the world champs, Delly inked a four-year, $38 million deal in a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee. Delly’s former teammate, 7-foot-1 center Timofey Mozgov, signed a $64 million deal with Jim Buss and the rudderless Lakers. That’s the same 29-year-old Mozgov, by the way, who played all of 25 minutes versus the Warriors throughout the entire finals.
Then we have Evan Turner, a fine NBA guard by any metric but hardly an offensive ace. Turner, though, signed for $70 million with Portland over four years. And of course, how could we forget Barnes? After a miserable postseason in which the 24-year-old endured severe shooting dips across the board, he was rewarded with a max contract worth $94 million with Dallas.
Mike Conley Jr.
Five years, $153 million: It’s the single largest contract in league history! It doesn’t belong to LeBron, or MJ, or Bird, or Magic, or Kareem, or Kobe.
It belongs to Michael Alex Conley Jr.!
This is hardly an indictment of Conley ― he’s a terrific NBA point guard. But 153 million bucks to a guy who’s never made an All-Star Game? I get it: The All-Star Game is about the fans and I’ve long lobbied for the 28-year-old Conley as an upper-echelon triggerman. But, even at his best, is Conley a top-20 NBA player? As we said, pure insanity.
Any Player Not From This Era
The further you go back, the worse it gets. Think about Bill Russell. The guy won 11 championships ... 11! He made $24,000 ― throughout his entire rookie season! How about Oscar Robertson? The one player in history to average a triple-double. Not much different than Russell. Magic Johnson, the architect of the Lakers’ famed Showtime dynasty, and perhaps the greatest player ever, for that matter: He famously signed a 25-year, $25 million contract. It was an unprecedented move in 1981. Even in today’s dollars, that’s peanuts to current NBA players.
If signing Durant makes you the definitive winners, then losing him surely makes you the definitive losers. Such is the harsh reality for Sam Presti and the OKC Thunder. In the span of weeks, the Thunder has gone from one of the few real title contenders to playoff hopefuls, wondering if perhaps it needs to deal Russell Westbrook before he surely walks as a free agent next summer. The truth of the matter for the Thunder is that all of this could have been avoided if management hadn’t been so thrifty with its money. OKC didn’t want to pay James Harden and has been paying for that error in judgment ever since. Think about this: Presti dealt a perennial All-NBA player long before he could even legally drive a rental car. Durant, a once-in-a-generation type of talent, is now gone, and soon, so too will be Westbrook. In other words: Close the book on this team.
Nobody has been more critical of the Houston Rockets GM than me. And it’s about to get worse. How in the world can Morey justify spending $133 million on two players (Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon) who have missed a combined 173 games over the last three seasons? It’s inexplicable.
Oh, and don’t forget that both Anderson and Gordon ― equal as defensive matadors ― were rewarded with four-year deals. Morey is undoubtedly an innovative thinker and he’s made stellar decisions in the past ― i.e. trading for Harden and drafting Chandler Parsons ― but the Rockets are quickly heading to mediocrity after being on the doorstep of the finals just two short years ago.
This is not about Derrick Rose. Both sides needed a fresh start. But if we know anything about Jerry Reinsdorf, it’s that he doesn’t want to rebuild. We learned that in the early 2000s, and history is repeating itself in 2016. The Bulls, who missed the playoffs last season, made a colossal mistake by signing native son Dwyane Wade to a two-year, $47.5 million deal. It’s not that Wade doesn’t have any good basketball remaining on his 34-year-old legs. He proved to us last season that he remains one of the premier two guards in basketball. The Bulls, however, are not winning with Wade, just as they weren’t winning without him. In addition, they now possess a backcourt of Wade and Rajon Rondo (who quietly put together a productive season in Sacramento), neither of whom will ever be confused with knockdown perimeter jump shooters.
To win in today’s NBA game requires shooting ― guards that can stick it and bigs who can extend the court ― and Chicago not only brought in two guards who can’t shoot 3s, but it also traded its best shooter in Mike Dunleavy Jr. in order to clear cap space for Wade. What’s more is that executives John Paxson and Gar Forman dealt Pau Gasol, easily their best passer and best shooting big.
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When Kate Collinger was 11 years old, her mother was dying of cancer.
For the last year of her mother’s life, Kate and her family devoted their energy to traveling to places like Disney World and Palm Springs, spending time together and making memories. But as Kate told Oprah back in 1997, a few months after her mother died, it wasn’t any particular adventure that stood out the most from that time with her mom. It was a simple box of cereal.
“We went to Palm Springs on family vacation and she was in bed, but I came home after swimming. She said, ‘Can you get me a bowl of Cheerios?’” Kate said. “I remember that... And about a week before she died, before she went into the hospital, I was in their room sleeping. I said, ‘Mom, will you wake me up if you go downstairs to eat a bowl of cereal?’ She said yes, so at 2 o’clock in the morning, we both went down and we ate cereal together.”
After telling that story on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Kate became known as “the Cheerios girl.”
Her sweet Cheerios moment became unforgettable to those who heard it, including Oprah. Today, Kate is 30 years old, and “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” followed up with her to learn about her journey in the years since losing her mother.
As Kate describes in the above clip, her life began taking a dark turn during her freshman year of college at Northwestern.
“I was in a deep depression. I wasn’t getting out of bed, I wasn’t showering, I was over-eating,” she says.
So, Kate ended up seeing a psychiatrist, who put her on an antidepressant. “He said, ‘If she’s bipolar, this could flip her,’” she says. “For people who are put on antidepressants who are bipolar, it has the capacity to anti-depress them so much that they’ll be sent into a manic episode.”
That’s what appeared to happen to Kate.
“All of a sudden, I was feeling ‘good.’ I didn’t need therapy anymore. I didn’t really need to eat because I wasn’t really hungry anymore. I didn’t need to sleep because I wasn’t really tired anymore,” Kate says.
The coed says she also began engaging in risky behavior ― and received a startling wake-up call.
“In November 2005, I took a hallucinogenic drug with a friend and got in a car, blacked out. I wake up and I’m pressing the accelerator of the car, having no idea why I wasn’t going anywhere. I look up and there’s an electrical post about 10, 15 feet from my face,” Kate recalls. “They took me to the hospital, and that was my induction into a 12-Step program.”
That year was also the year Kate was diagnosed with Bipolar I. Today, she says she is focused on making proactive choices each day to live a healthy, balanced life.
“It feels like it’s been a very long road. I’m telling a very different story than I did when I was 11 years old,” she admits.
Kate’s family and friends, she adds, provide the unconditional love and support she needs to help her through it all, and her late mother is still a big part of that.
“She passed away almost two decades ago, but she shows up for me when I hear ‘It’s a Wonderful World.’ That was her favorite song, and that comes on sometimes exactly when I need it to,” Kate says. “In the letter she wrote to me before she passed away, she said she’d always be in my corner, cheering me on.”
Kate may say she’s telling a different today nowadays, but she still believes strongly in the profound power of life’s little moments.
“That inherent feeling I had as a little girl when I talked about the Cheerios experience still is very present for me,” Kate says. “It’s not about the vacations or the money or whatever. It’s about the intimate moment of connection that you have on a daily basis with the world around you.”
She continues, “The magnitude and scope of the relationships and love that I have in my life today ... that’s what’s so profound and important and incredible to me.”
Another 11-year-old’s inspiring update:
Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, the American League’s starter for the Tuesday’s 2016 MLB All-Star Game, started chewing tobacco back in 2007. But in June 2014, he quit, and he did so for a very particular reason: the death of MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn from oral cancer.
On Monday, Sale revealed to reporters that he quit the day Gwynn died and hasn’t touched chewing tobacco since. Nine years after quitting, Sale made clear just how much Gwynn’s death affected his life.
“To say that he saved my life, I don’t think it’s an understatement,” Sale said.
The revelation surely wouldn’t offend Gwynn. Before his death, Gwynn publicly discussed the negative effects tobacco had on his health, attributing his cancer to a decades-long addiction to chewing tobacco. When he died, however, Gwynn’s doctors wouldn’t definitively say that tobacco was to blame. Even still, he remained convinced that decades of chewing tobacco caused his fatal cancer. Since his death, Gwynn’s family has fought to prove Gwynn right, filing a wrongful death lawsuit against tobacco companies in May 2016.
Up until Gwynn’s death, chewing tobacco remained entrenched as a baseball player tradition ― a common sight at ball games for over a hundred years. The percentage of MLB players who used it fell from 50 percent in 1994 to an estimated 33 percent in 2014, according to Professional Athletic Trainers Society estimates in line with the MLB’s own numbers.
“When I first started playing, everybody did it,” Red Sox veteran slugger David Ortiz said to The Boston Globe in March 2014. “Now you see fewer guys because everybody knows it’s bad for you.”
Gwynn’s death spurred increased awareness of smokeless tobacco’s dangers, ultimately resulting in MLB banning it from ballparks in March 2016 after years of pressure from anti-tobacco advocacy groups. Because of nicotine addiction and players’ habitual use of chewing tobacco as a playing stimulant, it’s been a hard ban for some players to swallow.
Sale is not alone in his reasoning behind why he quit. In death, Gwynn’s influence as a smart, technical hitter has been overshadowed by what his name now means to anti-tobacco advocates and MLB personnel who want smokeless tobacco out of the game. As Sale knows by now, lives are at stake.
An incredible new resource is in the works in Chicago, Illinois, that will be a safe space for trans masculine individuals who are in recovery following gender confirmation surgery.
Rhys’s Place is intended to be a location of all-inclusive surgery recovery for trans masculine identified individuals. Currently engaged in a GoFundMe campaign, Rhys’s Place will be an apartment where trans people post-phalloplasty surgery have a place to spend the long recovery period. The initiative is pioneered by Rhys Harper, a photographer who has spent the last several years creating portraits and telling the stories of trans and gender-nonconforming people through “The Transcending Gender Project.”
“I think the most important takeaway for people regarding this space is that many trans people are living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet,” Harper told The Huffington Post. “A space like this is truly groundbreaking -- it will be the first sliding scale place that exists, to my knowledge. There is a surgery recovery retreat called New Beginnings in Florida that hosts top surgery patients, and does provide some food, although it is not sliding scale. The vision for Rhys’s Place is that people will be able to come and access these services even if they cannot pay anything, at all.”
While not a medical facility, Harper told The Huffington Post that Rhys’s Place will function like a “specialized AirBnB.” There will be Netflix, Hulu and HBO, via Apple TV, high speed internet, nutritious meals and people who understand the experience of trans individuals -- all available and at the disposal of patients.
“A space like Rhys’s Place is desperately needed not just in Chicago, but all over. Specifically in regards to gender aligning surgery like phalloplasty, patients need to remain in the area on average for at least four weeks, and sometimes longer depending on surgical complications that may arise. “
The GoFundMe campaign is intended to fund the startup costs for the first year of Rhys's Place. Beyond that, payment for lodging at Rhys’s Place will operate on a sliding scale.
Thank you for this, Rhys.
By now you may have seen the pictures coming out of many of South Florida’s coastal communities: Many miles of smelly, “guacamole-thick” algal blooms cropping up along beaches and rivers — blooms so big they can even be seen from space.
Algal blooms like those currently fouling up many Florida waterways are caused, according to the EPA, by the buildup of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in water. This buildup is primarily the result of excess fertilizer being used in agricultural and home yard settings and then running off into local waterways following heavy rains. Improperly-functioning sewer and septic systems can also be a factor.
The problem is massive and officials are calling it “unprecedented,” resulting in the closing of beaches and many water-dependent attractions at the height of the region’s busy tourist season. But it’s also something that has been some time in the making.
In the specific case of Florida’s blue-green algal blooms, experts say the catalyst was nitrogen and phosphorous buildup traced back to pollution of Lake Okeechobee, the state’s largest freshwater lake. The lake flows into canals connected to coastal rivers like the Caloosahatchee to the west and the St. Lucie to the east, areas that have both been hit hard by the toxic blooms.
Dr. Bill Louda, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton who has been studying and testing the algae, put the situation’s root cause more bluntly: “Basically we’re fertilizing South Florida to death.”
The issue with the blooms isn’t just that they are unsightly and smelly, but also that the algae could be devastating for local economies and ecosystems alike. Algal blooms sometimes produce toxins that can sicken or kill both humans and animals and can produce “dead zones” where aquatic organisms die because the water lacks the oxygen they need to survive.
“The impact is tremendous,” Louda told The Huffington Post. “We have to stop somewhere.”
Recognizing the gravity of the problem, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in four impacted counties — Lee, Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie — late last month.
On Wednesday, Scott announced that he would propose new funding to address the algal blooms through a grant program helping homeowners living near bodies of water to switch from septic tanks to sewer systems, in addition to supporting communities’ building of improved wastewater systems.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added his support to Scott’s call for a federal emergency declaration Thursday, calling the situation “a health, ecological and economical emergency.” In a separate news release issued Wednesday, he asked the Centers for Disease Control to “remain vigilant” of the blooms and the impact they can have on the health of Florida residents and visitors, some of whom have already reported headaches, respiratory problems and rashes believed to be linked to the algae.
Despite the alarm, experts say little can be done to address the problem in the short-term aside from continuing to monitor it.
“You could throw some nasty herbicides or synthetic inhibitors on top of it, but it would kill everything else too, the seagrass, the phytoplankton fish eat,” Louda said. “We just have to let nature take its course.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already reduced the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee in an effort to reduce the blooms. The USACE confirmed in a Thursday news release that it will continue to discharge water from the lake at its current, reduced rate as conditions in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries have “shown slight improvement.”
Meanwhile, the region’s “bloom response team,” including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, five water management districts and the state’s departments of health, agriculture and fish and wildlife, told Huffpost via email that they will continue to respond to reports of blooms as they receive them. The team is urging residents to report blooms to the department either through its dedicated website or a new toll-free number.
And while the effort to address the Florida blooms continues, the problem appears likely to crop up elsewhere this summer. In recent years, record-breaking blooms have formed in coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean, in Lake Erie, in the Chesapeake Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico, where a dead zone has grown to approximately equal the size of the entire state of Connecticut.
Environmental advocates and scientists alike say the conditions are ripe for algal blooms to continue to become more common.
“No matter what part of the country you live in, there is probably a lake, a river or some body of water near you that will experience some form of harmful toxic algal bloom this summer,” Colin O’Neil, agriculture policy director at the Environmental Working Group, told HuffPost.
And while factors such as climate change are likely a big part of the reason why that’s the case, advocates point to the agricultural industry as the primary culprit.
In a new report released last month, researchers at Environment America, a Boston-based nonprofit, linked the growth of algal blooms and dead zones nationally to pollution caused by large agribusiness companies.
The report estimates the “manure footprint” of five major agribusinesses — Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, JBS and Perdue — at nearly 163 billion tons of manure annually. All that poop has to go somewhere.
“These factory farm operations generate so much manure they don’t know what to do with it. And the easiest thing to do is spread it around on crop land,” John Rumpler, the report’s author and senior attorney at Environment America, told HuffPost. “That runs off and can go into nearby rivers, lakes and streams.”
To reduce the amount of water pollution coming from these large farms, the EA report recommends using cover crops and buffer zones to reduce runoff from the growth of commodity crops, as well as using less fertilizer.
In addition, EA supports raising livestock in smaller-scale operations that minimize high concentrations of manure. All of that, Rumpler writes in the report, should be both regulated and incentivized by the EPA and other government agencies.
Until that happens, don’t be surprised if your favorite beach is suddenly closed next weekend.
“This is about where we swim, where we fish, where we draw our drinking water,” Rumpler said. “When you work that back up the chain, you see that the folks that are selling us our food are polluting our water.”