During Congressional Testimony, Mast Presses Army
Corps On Operational Decisions Risking Public Health
U.S. Congressmen Brian Mast (FL-18) today questioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ national leadership during testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. For the first time ever, the Army Corps admitted to willfully and knowingly releasing toxic water containing cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers.
A portion of the exchange is below:
REP. MAST: Has the Army Corps of Engineers transferred toxic water – toxic water – from Lake Okeechobee to the East through the C-44 [canal] into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon and to the West through the Caloosahatchee River?
MAJOR GENERAL SCOTT SPELLMON: Yes, sir. We have conveyed water out the system that has contained cyanobacteria and harmful algae blooms. Yes, sir.
REP. MAST: And the Corps considers that toxic?
MG SPELLMON: Yes, sir.
The importance of this admission—made for the first time ever during this hearing—cannot be overstated. A branch of the United States Military has now admitted to intentionally directing toxic water, without warning, into communities on the East and West coasts of Florida. This admission makes the need for operational change to include both human health and flood control all the more pressing, including two priorities that Rep. Mast has long fought for:
- The Toxic Health Threat Warning Act – to require the Army Corps to test the toxicity of the water prior to discharging, and if the water is contaminated, to warn the public of the health effects of their decision to discharge.
- The PROTECT Florida Act – to amend the Army Corps’ operational priorities to prioritize public health and minimize harmful discharges.
The Army Corps had previously and repeatedly refused to acknowledge that the water being discharged was toxic or harmful to human health. In May, the EPA announced that any level above 8 parts per billion microsystin was harmful for human contact, making the Army Corps’ position of denial increasingly untenable.
“Now that the Army Corps acknowledges that the water they are discharging is toxic, they cannot continue to willfully and knowingly poison our community,” Rep. Mast said in response. “The Army’s mission is to defend the American people, so they have a duty to prioritize protecting public health when they make operational flood control decisions. The changes they made lowering Lake Okeechobee this winter to prevent discharges are working, and they must commit to making these changes long-term to prevent this massive public health crisis. Anything less than that is a unconscionable failure by our government.”