Florida’s toxic algae problem and your health: ‘Red tide’ and ‘green slime’
“Before they even asked me anything else … they said, ‘Did you go to the beach today?’ ” she recalled.
Doctors said her son had upper airway inflammation “brought on by the red tide,” she said.
Evan, almost 2 years old, is doing just fine now. But the warning signs were there from the start.
The water in Englewood, on the state’s southwest coast, “smelled kind of funky, and then we noticed a few dead fish floating past,” Cornell said. “All of us felt as if we had bad allergies — like itchy, watery eyes and coughing. And we thought that was the end of it.”
This prompted Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency Monday for affected counties.
Although red tides happen around the world, this one is caused by an organism almost exclusively found in the Gulf of Mexico: a single-celled organism called Karenia brevis.
“These shellfish, over time, they accumulate high concentrations of these toxins, but it doesn’t seem to affect them at all. Then humans come along and eat shellfish, and they get very sick,” said Larry Brand, professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
This can lead to symptoms such as numbness, tingling, loss of coordination, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC. Symptoms typically disappear within a few days, but they can last much longer.
“It’s like being hit with a tear gas,” Brand said.
K. brevis thrives in saltwater. In freshwater, however, there are blue-green algae — which could be any of thousands of species of cyanobacteria.
Cyanotoxins can be ingested through contaminated water, fish and blue-green algae dietary supplements, according to the CDC. They can cause stomach pain, headaches, rashes and even kidney and liver damage, although no one is reported to have died from these toxins in the United States, the agency said.
Brand’s current research aims to find out to what extent these toxins can be aersolized, too.
The most widespread toxins from these algae, called microcystins, are “being produced right now by these blooms in Lake Okeechobee” and other bodies of water, Brand said. But there could be other toxins we don’t know about because they haven’t made people acutely ill, leading scientists to the cause.
“A bunch of people get sick about the same time, same location, and you could track it back to the source. And that’s how we discovered all these toxins,” Brand said. “There’s almost certainly other toxins being produced by these cyanobacteria that we have not discovered yet.”
“If you see a bloom of cyanobacteria, you should simply assume it’s got toxins in it,” Brand said. “Don’t go swimming in that water. Don’t eat any seafood from that water.”
Algae can be present throughout the year, affecting humans when there’s a “bloom,” or overgrowth.
This past year, Hurricane Irma may have been partly to blame. The storm moved nutrients that were inland into coastal waters, helping algae grow, according to NASA. Dumping of fertilizer and human waste into the water also contributes to some algae blooms, Brand said.
“When you start feeding these things with all these excess nutrients … now you’ve got what we call a ‘harmful algal bloom,’ ” Brand said. “Now you’ve got high concentrations of toxins, and now you’re causing a lot of human health [problems] as well as destruction of the ecosystem and so on.
“This is not just a unique situation in Florida. This is a global problem.”
CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht, Keith Allen and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.
News credit : Cnn