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Blue-green algae concerns spark studies on the long-term impact on health

Posted at 8:46 AM, Oct 24, 2018

“This was 13 years ago,” said Mary Radabaugh at Central Marine as she shows us her algae scrapbooks. “This one is 2013.”

Nobody has documented more than Mary over the years. Four scrapbooks for four algae crises. 

“Anything fluorescent could be dangerous,” said Mary. “At this time it’s worrisome.”

The problem is when you work at a marina and you document that much, chances are you’re exposed to quite a bit of toxin.

“Any level at this point is not good. I think if we show signs it’s dangerous,” said Mary.

We know the short-term effects of the toxin microcystin, found in blue-green algae. That includes skin, eye irritation, and flu-like symptoms.

Much of the focus after another round of cyanobacteria and discharges have been on long-term health effects.

Doctors at Martin Health System commented in July on this.

“Begin to do some research to find the long-term health effects. We are very concerned,” said Dr. Michael Romano.

Congress has called for the CDC to study those long-term health impacts.

Larry Brand is a professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami. He has been studying this as well. A particular toxin found in cyanobacteria.

“Discovered this compound BMAA which can apparently lead to diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, ALS,” said Brand.

BMAA is tricky and expensive to test. It’s also a slow-acting toxin.

Brand is concerned humans are exposed to it.

“These people picking up these diseases that live near the lake with cyanobacteria, are they simply breathing the air from the lake,” said Brand.

He is studying whether or not those toxins are airborne as well.

So is Adam Schaefer at FAU Harbor Branch.

“We need to begin accurately measuring the exposure and relate to long-term health effects that are a lot more subtle,” said Schaefer.

He is testing people on both coasts to see if microcystin and other toxins are airborne.

State health leaders are waiting on more research to come in before commenting on potential long-term health impacts of blue-green algae, but still urge people to avoid algae whether by swimming or even being near it.