Explanation of Indicator
The spilling of oil and hazardous material in coastal waters is associated with shipping and mineral extraction activities. The potential discharge of oil and hazardous material by these industrial operations represents a hazard to coastal populations and all coastal life. Under Chapters 376 and 403, Florida Statutes, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is required to track the discharge or release of pollutants. These pollutants include "oil of any kind and in any form, gasoline, pesticides, ammonia, chlorine, and derivatives thereof,"1 and those hazardous substances in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, as amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986.
Oil and hazardous waste discharges affecting coastal waters are likely to be a greater threat to ecosystem health and tourism than to human health; however, these materials do present a potential hazard. The greater the number of spills, the greater the threat to human health, in addition to the threats to ecosystem health, tourism, and water quality.
Information on oil/hazardous material spills is available from Carolann De Ford Bowen, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Emergency Response, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., M.S. 659, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000, or at (904) 488-2974.
There is an official report which may be obtained for associated copy and computer access costs.
The data have been collected statewide since the mid-1970s and are updated annually.
This information does not assess the toxicity or the magnitude of each spill, although the spills were categorized as minor, moderate and major until 1990. There is a possibility that some spills go unreported.
The number of oil/hazardous material spills increased dramatically from 1979 to 1989; the increase from 1982 to 1991 was 426%. The reasons for this increase are uncertain. Since 1989 the number of spills has remained relatively stable except for a peak in 1991. An explanation for this leveling off may be that the public has become more environmentally conscientious and actively participates in protection of natural resources. This pressures facilities that store, handle, or transfer pollutants across the coastal waters of the state to be more aware of their statutory obligation to protect the environment. In addition, several regulatory reforms were instituted in the early 1990s after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, possibly decreasing the risk of future spills.