Protecting your Family from Toxic Algae

Rashes from exposure to toxic algae in a lake.
Rashes from exposure to toxic algae in a lake.
Areas around many of Florida’s popular tourist destinations, including Sanibel Island on Florida’s Southwest coast, are suffering noxious outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae and red tide. Toxic algae contaminates drinking water supplies, kills fish, closes popular beaches, causes breathing problems, and devastates Florida’s tourism-dependent economy. More areas will suffer the same fate, until Florida sets measureable stand-ards for excessive levels of the phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that fuels these outbreaks.

This pollution poisons the rivers, lakes and streams that supply the water for our kitchen taps. In June 2008, a drinking water plant serving 30,000 people was shut down after a toxic blue-green algae outbreak on South-west Florida’s Caloosahatchee River. Another massive algae outbreak that made the river smell like an open septic tank caused the plant to be shut down again this year.

In the ocean, red tide, a marine algae, causes respiratory problems and county health departments often have to close beaches during tourist season when red tide is present. Another nuisance algae species, red drift algae, collects on the beach, smells like raw sewage, and drives away beachgoers.

Toxic Algae on the Caloosahatchee River.
Beach closure due to red tide.

Scientists have clearly documented how damaging this pollution is to hu-mans. Some algae are known to cause tumors, some produce neurotoxins which interfere with nerve cell function, and other toxins attack the liver.

Freshwater toxic algae may appear as a green paint-like coating on the water, as a thick green scum, or as algae mats with green, brown or reddish coloring. Outbreaks can happen overnight. Just because the scum is gone doesn’t mean the water is safe. Toxins can remain in the water after the algae has decomposed.The Florida Department of Health warns that swimming, water skiing or riding jet skis through water with toxic blue-green algae can cause skin rashes, runny noses, irritated eyes, and breathing problems. Swallowing the water can cause vomiting and diar-rhea. Keep your pets clear of water with algae in it – the algae can sicken or kill them. Don’t use scummy, algae-laden water for cleaning or irrigation. If you accidentally come into contact with toxic algae, wash thoroughly, paying special attention to the bathing suit area and to pet’s fur.
If you have been sickened by algae, the state has a special hotline to call: 1-888-232-8635
and let us know here.