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Cape Coral posts warning signs about toxic algae
Charlotte Sun - 7/5/2018
As it nears the two-week mark, the toxic blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River continues to sprawl westward, spurring the City of Cape Coral to warn its 180,000 residents not to swim or eat fish from its 400 miles of canals.
Temporary warning signs are now up at Rosen Park, Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, Horton Park, Jaycee Park and the Yacht Club Beach.
“It’s been inching closer, and now that it’s kind of reached our shores, we just wanted to take that extra precaution, so we had a whole bunch of advisory signs fabricated,” said city spokeswoman Connie Barron. “Once it passes, we’ll pluck them all out and put them in storage.”
Elsewhere in Lee County, the cyanobacteria has left floating mats of scum, slime-coated shorelines and gagging residents in its wake.
“I almost threw up,” said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani after a Tuesday morning visit to the W.P. Franklin Lock in Olga. “Where you walk down to the lock on the south side, and it’s all blue, and the smell is ... man, I can’t even.”
To make matters worse, as he was standing on the bank trying not to vomit, Cassani watched two people launching personal watercraft into the fouled river, never mind that there are sawhorses and signs warning visitors about the water.
That’s progress. Last week at this time, there weren’t yet any warnings and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had yet to release the results of its water sampling.
Cassani’s nonprofit did first. In some locations, sampling results verified by an independent lab returned levels approaching 500 times the recreational safety threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency; the DEP’s numbers a few days later showed things were as bad or even worse in other parts of the river.
Confusion persists over what responsibility state agencies and municipalities bear in keeping residents safe, which is why Cassani wants to see Florida reconstitute its Harmful Algae Blooms Task force, which the state defunded in 2001.
It’s needed to develop better, more consistent policies for dealing with harmful algae blooms, he said.
“We would like to see Florida adopt a modern response strategy like other states have adopted that utilize numeric thresholds that guide state agency action.”
Money is also a barrier to a better understanding of what happens to people when the toxins from this sort of algae bloom go airborne.
“There is a need for research looking at the risk associated with toxins from cyanobacteria (when they’re) aerosolized by wind and wave action and boats moving through it,” Cassani said.
University of Miami Professor Larry Brand is trying to do just that by launching a study of the effects of inhaled algae toxins, but “It’s tough getting environmental funding these days given the political climate in this country, both at the state and national level,” he said. But as far as he and Cassani are concerned, it’s critically important research, given what it already known about these organisms.
“(Cyanobacteria) are among the worst of all the different kinds of algae,” Brand said. They produce a toxin called microcystin, which is what Cassani and the state found in such high concentrations in the Caloosahatchee.
“It causes gastrointestinal problems, it’s known to be a tumor promoter and is associated with liver cancer,” Brand said. “That’s what we know is in the water, in the river. And we know that’s a problem ... I would never swim in that water, eat anything out of it, and if possible don’t even get near where you can smell it.”