Testing relationship between algae outbreaks and health concerns

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

Water infested with blue-green algae is not safe to swim in, play in or drink because of harmful toxins. Although, far less is known about what’s in the air regarding those same algae outbreaks.

Nevertheless, one group is hoping to change that because when blue-green algae grow, health concerns follow suit.

“We are measuring the air now because we are learning that as this algae processes unveiling and it seems to be getting more and more intense every year. We want to look and catalog and address the concern of airborne toxins,” said Captain Codty Pierce, with the Calusa Waterkeeper.

That’s why the Calusa Waterkeeper and volunteers deployed ADAM, aka Aerosol Detector for Algae Monitoring. The device was placed at two sites last week for 24 hours.

A.D.A.M. to test algae blooms. CREDIT:WINK News

“The Tuesday to Wednesday was on the Caloosahatchee River near Red Fish Point,” said Pierce, “so in between the Cape Coral and the Veterans bridge. The second location was in Alva, just east of the Alva bridge.”

In the lab, they measured for one toxin in particular called microcystin, which is common in freshwater.

“We were able to detect very small levels that were in the air, these levels,” said Pierce.

Low levels, but part of the issue, for the time being, is the lack of standards when it comes to air testing.

“We don’t have it for air, so we don’t know what a harmful toxin is in the air, so there have been some studies done on mice, some on sheep that suggest irritation, but it’s hard to extrapolate to a person,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, the professor of marine science at the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University.

In the water, we have a better understanding of the impact of cyanotoxins on people.

“Basically, they just didn’t feel well, they vomited,” said Parsons, “and they had other G.I. issues because microcystin is a — it’s called a hepatotoxin — it harms your liver.”

Typically, people get sick from accidental exposure while going for a swim or participating in water sports when there is a bloom.

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