Blue-green algae’s sour taste may be lurking in Florida’s waters

A man tries to reach an ornamental pond that could contain sickening orange blooms on Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Jacksonville, Florida on June 22, 2014. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In advance of the June 1 date set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the first federal advisory on blue-green algae to be placed along waterways across Florida, several South Florida organizations on Wednesday raised concerns that the toxic bloom on the Salton Sea may have become worse.

If treated with chemical treatments, blue-green algae is reduced to nearly undetectable levels, a situation called a “radically reduced bloom.” Environmentalists in Florida and elsewhere are concerned that the newly released advisory will make the problem worse and will intensify the concern about emergency response times to medical emergencies from reported blooms at some South Florida beaches.

Both the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have reiterated their belief that most blooms on the Salton Sea are sporadic and don’t pose a risk to the health of Florida’s thousands of beachgoers who regularly traverse the waters. But heightened testing of water samples this summer and winter have given Lake Owasso officials reason to remain cautious.

“We are not doing any better with the management of blue-green algae,” David Fisher, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told The Washington Post in March. “Water quality will not improve until we implement more and more robust enforcement of neonicotinoid and neonics [chemical spraying] on dead zones that are leaking nutrient to aquatic creatures, especially fish.”

Floridians have long braced for blue-green algae outbreaks to crop up in South Florida and other hot spots around the country. Governor Rick Scott has historically dispatched emergency personnel to wildfires and other environmental issues if they threaten personal safety. Coastal restoration agencies, like the Shark Conservancy, have repeatedly stressed that attracting beaches to recharge the sea is the most effective way to slow the increase in blue-green algae.

For years, Florida health authorities repeatedly noted reports of sicknesses associated with blue-green algae blooms on beachfront areas.

“Disease outbreaks involving the toxins often include necrotizing fasciitis, cholera, septicemia, oral peritonitis, chronic hepatitis, hepatitis, feline leukemia, hepatomercitis, and some form of respiratory illness,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a 2012 statement.

Federal officials have cited a Russian research project that concluded that algae likely grew on beaches with climate change causing runoff. University of Georgia research previously indicated that blue-green algae blooms could spawn just as easily in a Florida microcyst that drains groundwater, and the journal Science back in 2015 compared seasonal algae outbreaks to road crossings and beach water.

That research was presented at the New England Sustainability Institute annual meeting last year.

After a series of high-profile outbreaks, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio banned the use of chemical pesticide DDT in 2015.

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