Senator Bill Nelson Calls Urgently On CDC To Help Solve Harmful Algae Bloom Problems
Dear Friends & Neighbors,
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In a letter to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Director Robert Redfield, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has asked CDC to provide federal emergency assistance to research long-term health risks associated with toxic algae covering Lake Okeechobee and Florida coastal communities. Senator Nelson also asked CDC to study and properly communicate health risks from living near or coming into contact with algae. Nelson said in his letter, “I repeatedly heard the same message: We need trustworthy, timely information about the potential health consequences of exposure to toxic algae for prolonged periods.” Stuart, Fort Myers, and Belle Galde are communities being affected by the algae blooms so far.
In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Nelson urged the federal government to provide more funding to Everglades restoration projects in upcoming budgets.
Nelson said he would like to see at least $200 million annually directed toward the Central Everglades Restoration Project and the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir. “The only way to end those damaging discharges is to move ahead with Everglades restoration projects north of the lake as well as the projects designed to take water from the lake, clean it and send it south as Mother Nature initially intended it to go,” Nelson said. “The federal government should to take the lead and do what’s right. We should move forward and fully fund the only ongoing Everglades restoration projects.”
Senator Nelson also mentioned that voters in Florida overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of the documentary stamp tax to land acquisition for environmental projects….but what has happened is the government of state of Florida has not been using that money for what people intended when they voted in a referendum. Instead of its intended purpose, state of Florida has diverted the money to other purposes, such as filling in budget shortage or employee salaries or other expenses unrelated to the environment.
Senator Nelson continued to remind us the need to get U.S. House of Representatives to pass Harmful Algal Bloom Reauthorization bill (previously introduced by Senator Nelson and was passed unanimously a year ago). This bill would reauthorize funding for the federal task force that is studying the Harmful Algae Blooms described in the video above and below. He is also calling to affected areas to call on Speaker of the House to pass this important bill quickly, before the House goes on recess in August, 2018.
For more information regarding HAB (Harmful Algae Bloom), please refer to the excerpt from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in italics, below:
A harmful algal bloom (HAB) is the proliferation of a toxic or nuisance algal species that negatively affects natural resources or humans. Scientists prefer the phrase “harmful algal bloom” to “red tide” because blooms are not always red and are not related to the tides.
To further define a harmful algal bloom, let’s look at the phrase more closely.
- Harmful algal blooms damage the environment because they replace vital food sources, clog fish gills, prevent sunlight from reaching seagrass and contribute to low oxygen “dead-zones” when they degrade. Some HAB species produce potent toxins that can persist in the water and enter the food chain. These toxins can be harmful to humans and animals.
- Algae are plantlike organisms. In aquatic systems, most algae are microscopic and cannot be seen by the naked eye, though some such as “sea lettuce” are macroscopic and look like plants. Most microscopic algae are beneficial to natural systems and humans; they produce about half of the oxygen we breathe and serve as the base of the food web in fresh- and saltwater.
- Blooms occur when algae reproduce or accumulate far beyond their normal levels for specific geographic areas. Blooms are influenced by chemical, physical and biological factors.
There are several main groups of algae that form HABs: flagellates, diatoms and blue-green algae. Flagellates are single-cell organisms that move about or swim with whiplike appendages called flagella. They can cover up to 20 meters in a day. Diatoms live in glass boxes made of silica, either individually or in chains. Blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) are bacteria with plant pigments that can occur individually, or in colonies.
Learn more about the Gulf of Mexico’s prominent HAB species, their effects and their management by reading A Primer on Gulf of Mexico Harmful Algal Blooms (PDF 3.04MB)
The cyanobacteria these HAB produce can be harmful to human, in italics, excerpt from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, below:
Cyanobacteria are some of the Earth’s oldest organisms, with fossils dating back 3.5 billion years. Yet, they can still be found today in all of Florida’s freshwater and brackish habitats – lakes, rivers and estuaries. Like red tides, cyanobacteria can grow and accumulate, or bloom, when environmental conditions such as light availability and temperature are favorable. Nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban runoff causes the majority of freshwater cyanobacteria blooms. Other conditions that contribute to blooms are stagnant water resulting from a lack of natural flushing and land clearing. Cyanobacteria blooms can destroy submerged vegetation like seagrass by blocking sunlight. Blooms can also reduce oxygen availability to other aquatic organisms and introduce toxins that pass through the food chain. Toxins produced by cyanobacteria can be harmful to humans, affecting the liver (hepatotoxins), the nervous system (neurotoxins) and skin (dermatotoxins).
Several groups of toxic cyanobacteria have been detected in Florida’s waters. The groups Microcystis, Anabaena and Cylindrospermopsis and their associated toxins – microcystins, anatoxin-a and cylindrospermopsin, respectively – all occur in Florida freshwater systems, including those used for drinking water. Persistent cyanobacteria blooms have affected many of Florida’s aquatic systems, including Lake Okeechobee; the Harris Chain of Lakes (Apopka, Eustis, Griffin and Harris); and the St. Johns, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries.
If ingested, water contaminated with toxic cyanobacteria can cause nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, acute liver failure. In 2001, scientists discussed needs and methods for effective detection and treatment methods of toxins produced by cyanobacteria in drinking water reservoirs at the Cyanotoxin Detection and Quantification and Instrumentation Workshop. Although the presence of cyanobacterial toxins in reservoir systems used for drinking water is of potential concern in Florida, there have been no documented illnesses directly related to drinking water containing these toxins. Water treatment plants can effectively treat for one type of toxin – microcystins. These toxins can result in skin irritation, swollen lips, eye irritation, earaches, sore throats, hay fever-like symptoms (sneezing and runny nose) and fatigue after swimming in affected lakes.
The best way to prevent exposure to blue-green algae toxins is to avoid water where scum, foam or algae mats are present or where water is a greenish color. The Florida Department of Health offers these additional precautions:
- Do not drink, cook or shower with untreated water from lakes, ponds or streams.
- Do not allow pets or livestock to swim in or drink scummy water.
- If you or your animals accidentally get into a blue-green algae bloom, wash with fresh water and soap after skin contact, and avoid swallowing or inhaling water. Wash animals’ fur thoroughly before they start to groom themselves.
- Avoid exposure to irrigation water drawn from untreated sources.
- Notify your local water quality officials if you notice unusual changes in the taste or smell of your tap water.
The Florida Department of Health’s Aquatic Toxins Program provides more information on cyanobacteria and their toxins related to human health. More information on cyanobacteria blooms, their toxins and public health effects can also be found on the health department website.
To report any illness resulting from cyanobacteria exposure, call the Florida Poison Information Center at 800-222-1222. To report dead, diseased or abnormally behaving fish, call the FWRI Fish Kill Hotline toll free at 800-636-0511 or report the kill online.
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