Between the years of about 1915 to 1960, cattle dipping vats (CDVs) were constructed and used across the state of Florida as part of state and federal government initiatives to address the widespread occurrence of Cattle Tick Fever, an infectious disease caused by microbes that were spread by the cattle fever tick. This basic treatment program was carried out within most of the southern United States, Florida included, until the cattle fever tick was eradicated. The last infestation of cattle fever ticks in Florida was reported in the year 1960 on cattle from Palm Beach County. In 1961, the eradication program in Florida reached a successful conclusion.
How Did the Process Work?
In order to eradicate cattle fever ticks within areas where Cattle Tick Fever was prevalent, herds of cattle were subjected to periodic dipping in vats filled with water-based solutions containing arsenic or other pesticides at concentrations sufficient to destroy the ticks but not injure the cattle. Typical CDVs were elongate trenches between 4 to 6 feet in depth and having a drop- off entry on one end with a ramp at the exit end so that, once immersed or “dipped,” cattle could then easily walk out of the CDV. There was typically a drip pad and pen area for staging of the cattle where they were kept until their hides no longer dripped any solution.
Environmental Impacts of Cattle Dipping Vats
The environmental concern today is in regard to the residuals of treatment products used in the CDVs. When no longer needed, many CDVs were simply left in place, or at most were filled in with dirt and dried vat sludge that may have contained highly concentrated pesticides which can persist in the environment. At the conclusion of the cattle fever tick eradication program, there was no requirement to restore CDV sites to pre-construction condition, and so today former CDV sites may have environmental conditions that are not compatible with certain land uses.
The most common pesticide associated with CDVs is arsenic, although DDT and toxaphene were also sometimes used. Any contaminated soil tends to be fairly close to the vat, and groundwater plumes, if any, are typically not extensive but it is not possible to know the full extent of contamination without a field investigation.
Regulations for Cleanup in the State of Florida
There is no requirement in the state of Florida for a private landowner having a CDV on their property to take corrective action to address possible environmental impacts. However, a landowner can voluntarily take corrective actions (Section 376.306, F.S.) to address any potential environmental impacts. The department is available to provide guidance on properly assessing a CDV and on strategies for cleaning it up. If the landowner desires a Site Rehabilitation Completion Order from the department for such cleanup action, then the corrective action must be conducted in accordance with the applicable requirements found in Chapter 62-780, Florida Administrative Code.
Locations of Cattle Dip Vats
Available records indicate that over 3,200 vats were in use in the state of Florida at some time during the era when treatment was required. There was no requirement for vats to be reported, licensed or permitted so that, except for a relatively few specifically reported CDVs, the department does not have specific information regarding the vat locations. The records we do have are listings from the State Livestock Board that identifies CDVs by ranch name, property owner or some local landmark with no other details. The locations of many of these ranches and landmarks have been lost over time, even county lines have changed several times from when the vat program was initiated. The best way to determine if an abandoned CDV is located on a parcel of land is to conduct an actual site inspection of areas suspected to have been used for cattle ranching to try and identify any remnant features suggestive of a cattle dipping operation. CDVs tended to be located near roadways or other access points (cattle had to be treated prior to transport), so those areas are often a good place to begin a search. In addition to the vat itself, which may be low to the ground, there may be remnants of the gates and pens used to help control the cattle before and after dipping.
Identifying a Cattle Dipping Vat
Most vats and their supporting gates and pens have fallen into disrepair over the years, so it is sometimes necessary to look rather closely in overgrown areas. The link below for “Cattle Dip Vat Pictures” contains photos for typical remnant features of former CDVs and may be useful for their identification in an actual site inspection.
The following is a listing of available resources regarding Cattle Dip Vats in Florida:
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.