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Task force discusses ways to combat algae issues in South Florida

'Problem ... created by decades, if not hundreds of years of pollution,' expert says
Algae task force meets in West Palm Beach on June 23, 2020
Posted at 8:00 AM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 18:28:11-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Department of Environmental Protection held a special task force meeting in West Palm Beach on Wednesday to help combat blue-green algae in South Florida and throughout the state.

The task force looked at new technology on cleaning up and treating water contaminated with blue-green algae blooms and discussed prevention of the nutrient runoff that can cause the algae blooms.

The meeting comes just three weeks after West Palm Beach's water emergency, which officials said will likely be a topic of discussion.

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The task force consists of five scientists and researchers who specialize in blue-green algae and were all appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The purpose of the group is to come up with solutions on reducing the impacts of harmful algae blooms.

WPTV spoke with one of the scientists, James Sullivan, who serves as the executive director of Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch.

 James Sullivan, executive director of Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch
James Sullivan says the ecological problems in South Florida have been caused over the course of years and can't be resolved overnight.

He said the West Palm Beach Water situation is just another prime example of why his colleagues have been pushing for increased monitoring across the state.

"So, a situation like this, we would see it coming, you know, we would actually be watching reservoirs closely, especially those used for drinking water, so that we can tell, you know, the water processing plants, 'Hey, they need to treat for this toxin. It's in the water.' And when we can get this toxin out of the water with the right treatment, but they have to know that it's there," Sullivan explained.

The most riveting moments came when some people spoke during the public hearing about how the algae has impacted their lives.

Nancy Gregory of West Palm Beach says she got ill when she unknowingly cooked with city tap water when it was tainted with the algae.

Nancy Gregory, got sick from West Palm Beach algae
Nancy Gregory describes how she got sick after ingesting West Palm Beach's tap water.

"This is now the 25th day and I'm still feeling bad. My head hurts. I don’t vomit anymore," Gregory said. "I'm just one person ... and I have no idea how long this poison will be in my body."

Pamela McAfee told the task force she had no idea how dangerous the water was to her dog, which she said died from the toxins.

"I didn't know it was toxic," McAfee said.

Her dog named Bella died last month after tests she said showed high levels of the blue-green algae in the C-51 canal.

Pamela McAfee, pet owner in Palm Beach County who says dog died from toxic algae
Dog owner Pamela McAfee speaks to the algae task force at the meeting held June 23, 2021, in West Palm Beach.

The task force is looking for ways to attack the algae problem in Lake Okeechobee and other canals and waterways.

Recent outbreaks of the algae in the Pahokee Marina and in the drinking water supply for West Palm Beach have led to growing concern about controlling the problem in the spring and summer.

"I would say, from a scientific point of view, is the problem we have now is created by decades, if not hundreds of years of pollution, and what we've done to the environment you can't fix that overnight," Sullivan said.

To fix it, the task force looked at several ideas for clearing and cleaning the water.

People like McAfee said what's needed also are clear and timely warnings when testing shows toxins in the water.

"What concerns me is there are children that weigh much less than her that are on this canal skiing, wakeboarding swimming and boating with their families and our waterways are not safe. They're toxic," McAfee said.

Better warnings were one of the takeaways from some of the people who spoke at Wednesday's meeting. They say word needs to get out when the algae is present in waterways.

The task force has no power to make any policy changes, but it can make recommendations to public officials and lawmakers.