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03/16/08 - Greg Martin - Sun-Herald.com

Scientist: Horse Creek monitoring a sham -

PUNTA GORDA -- A phosphate mining company's program to monitor Horse Creek for contamination is a "waste of time" because it's not designed to detect those impacts, a scientist said during a conference on mining Saturday.

The so-called Horse Creek Stewardship Program fails because it sets "trigger levels" so high, "they would never have reached them," said Dr. William Dunson, a retired Penn State University biology professor who has been appointed to a Peace River scientific peer review panel.

Dunson was one of a half-dozen environmental scientists and activists who gave presentations during the First International Conference on Mining Impacts to the Human and Natural Environments at the Best Western Waterfront.

About 75 people traveled from as far north as Putnam County and south as Lee County to participate in the conference, which was organized by the Responsible Growth Management Coalition, the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and the University of Georgia's center for remote sensing.

The Mosaic Fertilizer company, which conducts the stewardship program in partnership with the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, has touted it as a success.

"Funded by Mosaic, this long-term program provides a procedure for the collection of information on physical, chemical and biological characteristics of Horse Creek during mining in the watershed," Mosaic states on its Web site. "This detailed monitoring and evaluation has confirmed that our mining operations are not adversely impacting Horse Creek."

"It's a complete waste of time," countered Dunson bluntly. "It's not going to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish."

He cited the trigger level for "specific conductance" as one example. This measurement counts ions to determine the amount of minerals dissolved in the water.

Natural Florida streams typically have less than 100. Streams known to be polluted by phosphate mining contain five to six times that amount, Dunson said.

But the trigger level in the Horse Creek Stewardship Program is set at 1,275, an extremely high level, he said.

"There's no scientific basis (for the 1,275 level)," he said. "It's purely political; greed and self-interest."

Another example Dunson cited was nitrogen, a nutrient that, combined with phosphorus, can cause algal blooms.

The stewardship program allows the nitrogen level to rise to 3 milligrams per liter before triggering a concern. That level is about 500 times higher than the target level for nitrogen in the Everglades, he pointed out.

Dunson compared Horse Creek to five other creeks located in watersheds that range from pristine to polluted. They included the pristine St. Mary's Creek, fed by the Okeefenokee Swamp, to Payne Creek, which runs through a mined-out region west of Fort Meade.

The comparison confirmed that fluoride is an indicator of phosphate-mining contamination because it is found in very low levels, around 0.5 mg/L, in streams that have not been mined. But in streams in mining areas, the levels range from 1.5 mg/L to 4 mg/L, he said.

The Horse Creek program set the trigger level for fluoride at 4 mg/L, which Dunson complained is "way, way out of sight."

To better test the toxicity in Horse Creek, Dunson suggested comparing the stream's zoology to similar streams that are not impacted. The goal is to identify "missing critters," he said.

Also, water quality samples should be taken at numerous sites above and below the location of mining, and before and after rainfall, he said. Currently, the program samples at four sites.

To gauge toxic effects on fish, Dunson suggested the program use a standard crustacean commonly used in laboratory tests, as well as native species.

In other presentations:

* Denis Mader of People Protecting the Peace River provided an overview of phosphate-mining impacts. They range from "catastrophic accidents" as recent as 2004 to elevated levels of radionuclides found on the reclaimed Tenoroc site.

"Most of the reclaimed phosphate mine sites turn into fields of cogon grass, the world's most invasive weed," he added.

* Glenn Compton, chairman of Manasota-88, called for a comprehensive impact study. Typically, environmental regulators look through a small window at only one mine site at a time, he said.

* Peggy Apgar'Schmidt of the Corkscrew Road Rural Community showed a video of incessant dump truck traffic on her road, where dirt mines have proliferated. The traffic has caused the pitting of pavement and vehicle accidents, she said.

The number of people who attended indicates a high level of concern about mining, said Nora Deemers, event organizer.

"I believe that we need this kind of civic engagement for a sustainable future," she said.

You can e-mail Greg Martin at gmartin@sun-herald.com.



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