Worries over toxic algae, bacteria in St. Lucie River grow, as some worry about long-term impact

STUART, Fla. -- Tests from the Department of Environmental Protection have confirmed that blue-green algae discovered in the St. Lucie River is releasing toxins harmful to people and pets, as worries about the long-term impact of this continue to grow.

On Tuesday, the Martin County Health Department confirmed that water samples taken on Monday found that high levels of bacteria were still present in the river.

Officials said people should stay away from the water and not come in contact with the algae.

Exposure, officials said, could cause nausea or vomiting if swallowed and rash or hay fever if touched or inhaled.

The Health Department collected water samples from the Roosevelt Bridge, Sandsprit Park, Leighton Park in Palm City and the Stuart Sandbar.

Samples were also collected at ocean beaches and Indian River Lagoon causeways.

"The bacteria sample at Stuart Sandbar came back in the good range, however, the advisory will remain in effect at that location until tests remain consistently in the good range," Bob Washam, an Environmental Health Director at the Martin County Health Department said. "The other St. Lucie River locations remain in the poor range."

The bacteria results for the ocean beaches and causeways were satisfactory.

The test results were announced as public anger continued to grow over the algae and the bacteria.

Veronica Montoya, a Stuart resident, said she was one of dozens of people in Martin County who had written Governor Rick Scott a letter to demand state intervention.

"We love to see the fish [and] the wildlife [but] there is nothing to see anymore, Montoya said. "[This] is a contaminated river and we need to do something about it."

Elsewhere in Martin County, some real estate agents said the condition of the river had become a concern for potential home buyers.

"When people want to come by some of our waterfront properties, somewhat great deals … even at that price, they're not really that interested," Victor Miskanic, a procurement specialist and broker associate at Keller Williams Realty said. "They say, "Why do I want to live on a river that's dirty?" I have to agree. If I'm going to spend $500,000 to $3 million I want to live on a clean river."

Sunlight, temperatures, physical conditions, precipitation and the water's nutrients contribute to the formation of algae.

Some officials have said discharges from Lake Okeechobee and run-off from recent heavy rains may have led to conditions favorable to the development of the algae and the higher levels of bacteria.

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