Florida Grand Jury Blasts Federal, State and Local Authorities for Failing to Protect State Residents from Water Pollution

Report Findings Fit Pattern of Environmental Neglect, Says NRDC

WASHINGTON (May 4, 2004) - A grand jury in Escambia County, Florida, today issued a stinging report on groundwater contamination, blasting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and local authorities for failing to prevent or clean up pollution.

The 21-member panel found "widespread" contamination in the county, including six Superfund sites, dozens of dry cleaning sites, and hundreds of petroleum storage sites. "More than one-half of the county's public supply wells has been contaminated with dry cleaning solvents, pesticides, or petroleum products," the grand jury explained in its report summary. (For the grand jury report, click here.)

"Today's grand jury report highlights an appalling pattern of neglect by both the state of Florida and the Bush administration," said Jessica Landman, an attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "Polluters get a free pass in Florida, while everyone else has to worry about eating contaminated fish, swimming in pollution, or drinking tainted water."

The grand jury report's findings echo those of a previous one in 1998. That year an Escambia grand jury found that neither EPA nor DEP was adequately enforcing the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act. EPA did nothing in the years between the two grand juries to address the problem.

Today's grand jury report comes on the heels of a number of recent events that show the state and federal government have failed to enforce environmental safeguards:

  • On March 8, a Florida court issued a ruling forcing the state of Florida to regulate pollution from large dairies. The court found that Florida DEP failed to implement and enforce a permitting program for large-scale dairies as required by Florida law and the federal Clean Water Act. (For more information, click here.)

  • On March 18, NRDC and Sierra Club announced they would sue EPA if it did not assume Florida DEP's water pollution control duties. The group's notice of suit cited numerous examples of how the EPA has done nothing while DEP has allowed industrial facilities to contaminate state waterways. (For more information, click here.)

  • On April 22, Earth Day, Florida Public Interest Research Group, Sierra Club and Save Our Suwanee filed suit against EPA, charging that the agency had failed to develop cleanup plans for polluted Florida waterways after the state refused to take action (For more information, click here.)

Given the mounting evidence of EPA's abdication of its responsibility in Florida, conservationists thought it was ironic that President Bush traveled to the state the day after Earth Day to burnish his environmental credentials. He visited Rookery Bay, a water body that is so contaminated with mercury that the fish that swim in it are unsafe to eat.