Wetlands purchase hits contamination hurdle

A plan to rescue a world-famous stretch of wetlands has hit a hurdle after it was revealed that large swathes of the land have potentially harmful levels of pollution.

Florida state authorities announced a $1.75bn deal to buy up part of the rapidly-shrinking Everglades earlier this year (see related story).

But the body that manages the Everglades restoration and will bankroll the land purchase has been told that more than half of the land the state is set to buy from US Sugar Corp is polluted.

The results of an environmental assessment presented to the South Florida Water Management District showed the soil is contaminated with varying levels of copper, selenium, DDT and other chemicals.

Members of the board heard that approximately 49,000 acres of the land – or 27.5% of that the state will buy – has been assessed by environmental experts as posing a significant risk.

Arsenic was detected at levels above human health standards in more than 6,000 acres of land.

A worst case scenario estimated that US Sugar Corporation would have to pay more than $21m in clean up costs as part of the deal.

Most of the costs would be met by the South Florida Water Management District, however.

Board member Charles Dauray raised concerns about the purchase of the site. “I don’t want to get stuck with a land mine,” he said.

But the organisation’s executive director Carol Wehle said the results of the assessment did not contain any surprises.

“They aren’t any better or any worse than any other agricultural land we’ve acquired,” she told the meeting.

More work will be carried out to establish the exact costs of the potential clean up operation.

Read the environmental assessment here.

Kate Martin

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