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Toxic sludge and treasures in Lake Okeechobee

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thousands of years of history were revealed this summer as drought drained the water from Lake Okeechobee in the Florida Everglades. Native American tools and jewelery, a hundred year old fishing boat, and ancient human remains are just a few of the things that archaeologists have pulled from the lake's muddy, expanding shores.

The legacy of more recent years of habitation around the lake? Toxic muck left over from years of dumped wastewater and litter (big litter. We're talking about tractor tires and speedboat motors). Isn't it nice to know how we'll be remembered?

The nice part of having the toxic mess exposed is the opportunity to clean it up:

In little more than two months, contractors with the South Florida Water Management District have hauled away 2 million cubic yards of sludge enough to fill nine football stadiums from the field to the nosebleed seats, said Tom Debold, water district supervisor on the muck-removal project.

And that was only 2% of the estimated total muck (ETM -- it's a technical term).

The wastewater management team and the Army Corps of Engineers had been hoping to be able to sell the sludge as landfill for construction, but it turns out the stuff is just too toxic. At 9 milligrams per kilogram, the arsenic content is more than four times the residential limit for fill. There isn't much to be done with it; at the moment, it's sitting in piles waiting for the environmental okay and Army Corps permit to be buried in trenches in the levee.

They're building a museum to contain all the artifacts found on the site. Think they'll include a nice big hermetically sealed container of toxic sludge?

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