UF scientists work to develop method to measure red tide air toxins

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
FILE Photo of red tide along SWFL beach in 2018. Credit: WINK News.

Researchers are developing a method that could later be used in a device to monitor red tide. It’s a technology that could work a lot like how you’d test the water in your pool. The scientists want to monitor toxins red tide can produce in the air.

The memories of red tide are fresh in Capt. Gene Luciano’s mind. He owns Dalis Fishing Charters and said the water crisis in Southwest Florida took a toll on his business back in 2018.

“Financially, it was devastating because a lot of people didn’t want to go out, and the fishing wasn’t that great.”

Thanks to a $200,000 grant, scientists at the University of Florida are developing a method to detect and measure red tide toxins in the air.

“The idea would be that lifeguards can have it, and they can test it out there,” said Dail Laughinghouse, with the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. “And as it’s a colorimetric method, it’s easier for them to detect it and see too at that point, and they can inform the public.”

Think of it as similar to when you test the chlorine in your pool.

“People can be out there, out on the shores or on their boat, and use this to be able to quantify the concentration of the toxin,” Laughinghouse said. “So at the end, it comes out to a color where you can understand a color coding.”

Research is in the early stages, so scientists have to first figure out how to incorporate the color coding and eventually turn it into a portable device.

“Anything like that is helpful,” Luciano said. “And it’ll prevent you from, you know, if it’s a mild case of red tide starting and you know about it, you could either get off the beach or off the waterfront, so it doesn’t affect your breathing or your lungs.”

Once the researchers can measure the toxins in the air, they’re one step closer to figuring out the impact on community health.

Scientists hope to use the method and device once they are developed to measure other toxins in the air, including those connected to blue-green algae.

The goal is to have a prototype ready by summer 2021.

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