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Improperly treated sewage is a major and often the most dangerous source of pollution and contamination in Florida’s waters. Aging, inadequate wastewater treatment infrastructure routinely puts raw or partially treated sewage in ground and surface waters. About one spill occurs in Florida every three hours. Meanwhile, many utilities only remove solids and pathogens, then discharge harmful amounts of nutrient pollution into state waters.
Meanwhile, onsite underground septic systems easily transmit nutrient-rich, disease-carrying fluids through Florida’s rocky, sandy soils, and into water tables that are typically close to the surface.
The resulting contamination threatens the health of humans and wildlife, as well as the state’s most valuable natural resources, such as coral reefs, beaches, and estuaries, plus springs, creeks, and rivers. For example, raw or partially treated sewage is a “superfood” that allows harmful algal blooms including red tide, brown tide, and cyanobacteria to bloom intensely, for as long as the sources of nutrition are available.
In 2018, millions of fish and other wildlife died from exposure to harmful algal blooms, residents and tourists suffered from exposure to their toxins, and the state lost billions in tourism revenue. Sewage contamination played a significant role in every bloom. Meanwhile, the numbers of beach closures due to high fecal bacteria counts skyrocketed, and a species of antibiotic resistant of MRSA bacteria, previously only found in hospitals, was discovered in Tampa Bay.