Brevard County to Approve Harmful Spraying on Waterways as Manatees Continue to Perish

Spraying in Brevard
Agency Spraying Waterway by Mike Knepper

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA - As threatened manatees die in unprecedented numbers throughout Florida, the Brevard County Commission is set to approve a contract that grants the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) funding to purchase and spray herbicides on waterways. This decision comes less than thirty days after the Brevard County Save Our Indian River Lagoon (SOIRL) released fertilizer videos as a part of their marketing budget, funded by citizens who voted to tax themselves in 2016 to save the lagoon.

FWC contracts sprayers to keep waterways clear of invasive plants such as hydrilla. Sprayers are hired as "marine inspectors" to mix chemicals as needed, assist with fueling and chemical loading of helicopters and perform spray missions. Glyphosate, 2,4-D, and diquat are a few control methods they use in the St. Johns River, Lake Poinsett, Lake Washington, and Fox Lake.

The budget for herbicides with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation is managed under mosquito control and has increased by 36% since the Save Our Indian River Lagoon half-cent tax was passed in 2016. That doesn't include the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) herbicide application budget, the overall spending in the sixteen cities of Brevard County, or landscape contracts to apply herbicides. Some cities in Brevard have banned glyphosate, but agencies are using them directly on our waterways, impacting seagrass and endangering the ecosystem.

When approving aquatic spraying in last year's budget Commissioner Lober argued that homes would flood as culverts get blocked and prevent water from flowing, which is why spraying is needed. The average "marine inspector" salary is $25 an hour, while the beginning salary for Brevard County public works employees is $15 an hour. Under the mosquito "control budget," $450,000 was spent on a new pesticide chemical storage area. Some citizens argue that they could have decreased the chemical use, incentivized an organization, offered higher pay to do ditch cleaning, or invested in mechanical harvesting. 

The chemicals are sprayed from airboats, helicopters, trucks, and backpacks. Some, like glyphosate, break down and release phosphorus into water bodies, causing plants to decompose, release nutrients that fuel algae growth, and are absorbed through the foliage. Scientists have found chemicals like glyphosate and PFAS (used in HDPE containers and firefighting foam) in seagrass.

Seagrass requires clean water to grow, and when too many pollutants enter the water, it feeds undesirable algae, which limits sunlight to the seafloor, causing seagrass to die. Over the past decade, the Indian River Lagoon has lost more than 46,000 acres of seagrass, and Brevard County should be doing everything it can to protect existing seagrass by making water quality a priority.

Restoration projects that plant seagrass can take decades to expand and are different from natural healthy meadows. Thin grasses can't often withstand years of bad water quality, which is why saving existing seagrasses and stopping sources of pollution causing seagrasses to die is necessary. Seagrass supports thousands of marine animals, providing a home and a feeding area for more than 1,000 fish species, turtles, seahorses, and manatees.

Over thirty years ago, the Indian River Lagoon was designated an "estuary of national significance" (NEP) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The lagoon had more species of marine life than any other estuary in the United States, and this designation was made to protect estuaries threatened by pollution. The government acknowledged that the fishery populations were reduced, wetlands were lost, and plants or animals couldn't adapt to the change, even becoming extinct as the ecosystem degraded. Government officials have been talking about it since 1970, as seen in archived documents and newspapers.


Headlines dating back decades speak of pollution, algal blooms, dolphin deaths, sea turtles with diseases, tumored fish, seagrasses dying, birds falling from the sky, manatee mortalities, sewage issues, declining fisheries, and more.

The same agency spraying waterways has spent the past few years taking thousands of dead manatees to the Cocoa landfill as the lack of seagrass, and pollution impacts them. Researchers found that more than half of Florida's manatees have glyphosate in their bodies, which may affect their immune and renal systems. Scientists also found cancer-causing chemicals known as PFAS in manatee blood, tested at the highest levels of toxic fluorinated chemicals ever measured in the species.

The EPA has only studied a handful of chemicals. Nearly all substances the chemical industries want to sell are allowed because of the need for toxicity data. When the agency sets standards, it's based on science that is available at the time. They can only set standards that protect wildlife and humans if they have the information. In most cases, the data either isn't collected or the science needs to catch up. There are many examples of chemicals being regulated or banned decades after the harm is done. It took ten years, relentless advocacy, and the book publication of Silent Spring by marine biologist Rachel Carson to expose the genetic damage to humans that the pesticide DDT did.

Florida activist Mike Knepper has sent fish samples for analyses to a Georgia laboratory from over-sprayed waterways in Florida and found high levels of diquat (one of the chemicals sprayed by FWC). Diquat Bromide binds to plants and doesn't break down. Scientists learned that bromide in plants produced a toxin that they believe caused a neurodegenerative disease that has been killing bald eagles. Knepper says, "It took 25 years to find out that bromide killed bald eagles. What do you think we will learn about all the other chemicals being dumped into our waterways?" 


Florida law permits pollution. The politicians create the laws that agencies like FWC and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) follow. Those same politicians are pressured by lobbyists working for the chemical companies, leading to no or weak legislation. You, as a citizen, have the power to take action. 
  • You can help get a constitutional amendment on the Florida state ballot in 2024 by printing, signing, and mailing the petition found on www.floridarighttocleanwater.org/
  • Contact your state legislator and ask for amendments to the Invasive Aquatic Plant Management Act so communities can take more action on harmful spraying and introduce legislation prohibiting pesticides containing PFAS.
  • Contact your local council members and ask them to ban Glyphosate.
  • Write your county and ask them to decrease their herbicide use rather than increase it and to commit to alternatives such as mechanical harvesting. 
  • Ask agencies to provide biologists funding to do more in-depth necropsies on the manatees to learn more about the transfer of toxins such as DDT, Diquat, PFAS, and glyphosate from the water.
  • Don't accept the words "it's safe" without scientific studies, data, and an understanding of how chemicals are regulated in the United States. The book, "Superman's Not Coming," by Erin Brockovich, does a good job explaining the complexity of the laws. 
  • Write about Florida Fish and Wildlife using chemicals for aquatic plant management. 
  • Share this article: www.advocatesvoice.com/2023/01/FWCherbicides2023.html
  • Use hashtags #StoptheSource #StoptheSpraying

The Brevard County Commission is meeting in Viera on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, at 9:00 am. Contact your commissioner at 
http://www.brevardfl.gov/Contact

Sources and Additional Reading:
  1. Herbicide Report: https://app.myfwc.com/hsc/pmars/waterbodyschedule.aspx
  2. Brevard 2016-2017 Budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/BudgetOffice/Budgets/ArchivedBudgets/2016-2017ArchivedBudget
  3. Brevard 2017-2018 Budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/docs/default-source/budget/adopted2018not508/2018-summaries/2017-2018-budget-summaries-adopted.pdf?sfvrsn=d53f9727_2
  4. Brevard 2018-2019 Budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/docs/default-source/budget/adopted-2019---not-508/2019-complete-budget-book/2018-2019-entire-adopted-budget-book.pdf?sfvrsn=ce94053_2
  5. Brevard 2019-2020: Budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/docs/default-source/budget/adopted/2020-summaries/summaries.pdf?sfvrsn=e0d24edc_12
  6. Brevard 2020-2021 Budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/BudgetOffice/Budgets/ArchivedBudgets/2020-2021ArchivedBudget
  7. Brevard 2021-2022 Budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/BudgetOffice/Budgets/ArchivedBudgets/2021-2022ArchivedBudget
  8. Brevard 2022-2023: Budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/docs/default-source/budget/not-508-budget-book/fy22-23-adopted-budget.pdf?sfvrsn=bba8b0de_1
  9. Digestive Efficiencies of Ex Situ and In Situ West Indian Manatees: journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/673545
  10. Dolphone Deaths 2013: https://www.wired.com/2013/07/dolphins-and-manatees/?fbclid=IwAR2JFtKDR__gWhMr-j3q7DFCiGg1VkD8L3zYhqUzIR8lTqjidIyJoLhVprc
  11. EPA NEP Designation: https://www.epa.gov/nep/state-bay-report-indian-river-lagoon
  12. FDOT Herbicide Usage: https://fdotwww.blob.core.windows.net/sitefinity/docs/default-source/contracts/d2/lettings/2022/jan19/e20i6-r0.pdf?sfvrsn=45c368bf_2
  13. FWC Annual Report: https://ipm-myfwc.shinyapps.io/AnnualRep/
  14. FWC Herbicide Report: https://app.myfwc.com/hsc/pmars/waterbodyschedule.aspx
  15. FWC Law: https://myfwc.com/license/aquatic-plants/florida-statutes/#:~:text=369.20%20Florida%20Aquatic%20Weed%20Control%20Act.%2D%2D,-(1)%20This%20act&text=(3)%20It%20shall%20be%20the,of%20aquatic%20weeds%20and%20plants
  16. Glyphosate in Manatees: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412021001185#:~:text=Florida%20manatees%20were%20found%20to,to%20prepare%20farms%20before%20planting
  17. Mosquito budget: https://www.brevardfl.gov/BudgetOffice/Budgets/ArchivedBudgets/2016-2017ArchivedBudget
  18. OSHA Pesticide Saftey: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Protect%20Yourself%20From%20Pesticide%20Training%20Module.pdf
  19. PFAS in HDPE containers: https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/pfas-packaging#:~:text=In%20what%20amounts%20were%20PFAS,contained%20varying%20levels%20of%20PFAS.
  20. PFAS in Manatees: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6529203/
  21. SOIRL Fertilizer Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNnC2efHqns
  22. Rachel Carson Silent Spring: http://www.rachelcarson.org/SilentSpring.aspx

Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey is a community leader committed to environmental justice, protecting service members from toxic exposures, and shielding children from the detrimental effects of pollution. Stel is not only a survivor of cancer but also a mother of two, a prelaw student, a globally-published freelance journalist, a speaker, and an outdoor adventurer. stelbailey.com

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