Health and Environment before the RESTORE Act Advisory Committee

Adding to the body of knowledge intended to guide them in their eventual project recommendations, the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee heard from speakers who highlighted issues in public health and the local environment on Monday.

“Health status is more than just health care,” stated Dr. John Lanza, the Director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, whose multifaceted presentation topic was “Health Update.” Currently, the county’s high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, and obesity are top priorities for preventative education, according to Lanza. “We’re focusing on change, a healthy lifestyle. This is going to be a cultural change for Escambia County,” said Lanza of the health department’s efforts, “We have to, within ourselves, expect us to be healthy before we can be healthy.”

Lanza also made the committee aware of the ongoing Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study (GuLF Study), which focuses on individuals who worked on the 2010 oil spill recovery efforts. Over 33,000 people are participating in the study—conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences—which is expected to continue for 10 years to monitor potential health effects.

Taylor “Chips” Kirschenfeld explained the findings of grand jury reports issued in 1999 and 2004 pertaining to Escambia County’s environmental issues. As a Senior Scientist with Escambia County’s Water Quality & Land Management Division, Kirschenfeld discussed the report findings with a focus on wastewater treatment plants, storm water systems, and beach erosion. Water quality and loss of habitat were among the report topics that Kirschenfeld, when asked by member Tammy Bohannon to prioritize the issues, identified as the two most pressing in his estimation.

Like other similar boards throughout the state and region, Escambia County’s advisory committee continues to wait for both Department of Justice guidance and for fine amounts from BP’s Clean Water Act penalties to be determined. The Clean Water Act case is before the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, where the amount of oil spilled is currently being argued by federal attorneys and those for BP.

The next RESTORE committee meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m., Oct. 21 at the Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building at 221 S. Palafox.