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The Planet

The Planet
September 1998 Volume 5, Number 7


Orimulsion Ousted

Maybe it was the Dalmatian. More likely, it was Florida Chapter volunteers and their five years of dedicated work. On June 24, Florida's governor and cabinet denied a permit that would have allowed Florida Power and Light to burn orimulsion in Manatee County.

Orimulsion, a mixture of bitumen - a very heavy tar-like substance - tar, water and emulsifiers, contains high levels of heavy metals and releases acid-rain causing nitrogen oxides when burned. Had the utility company been allowed to use this fuel, tankers carrying it from Venezuela would have put Tampa Bay at serious risk: Orimulsion does not float like oil, but mixes readily with water which makes it difficult to clean up. Furthermore, the emulsifier in orimulsion -- which will soon be banned in all European countries - causes sexual deviations in aquatic life.

But the hundreds of Florida Chapter volunteers who have been fighting the permit since 1993 have finally seen the fruits of their labors. Under the leadership of Clean Air Chair Mary Sheppard and volunteer Gerry Swormstedt, they waged an education campaign about the dangers of orimulsion. The campaign included letters to the editor, thousands of signed petitions, roadside demonstrations featuring "Orimulsion: It stinks, it sinks" signs and plenty of evening meetings at the local library.

"The real turning point was at a 1997 hearing," said Sheppard. "We showed slides to the governor and the cabinet that illustrated the dangers airborne particulates pose, especially to children."

Before the hearings in June, the Floridians organized a rally in Tallahassee. Said Sheppard, "Everyone wore black, and we had signs that said 'Black day in Tampa Bay if orimulsion comes our way.'" Even local pets served to point out how dirty orimulsion is. "One lady read the notice in the paper and dressed up in black and brought her Dalmatian, which sported a black and white anti-orimulsion sign."

After the decision, Sheppard and Club activists who had bussed up to Tallahassee hurried back to Tampa for a champagne press conference.

This is the second time the permit to burn orimulsion has been denied, and Florida Power and Light intends to appeal the decision.
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