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ACLU: State put public health at risk during 2016 algae crisis

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jun 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-07 23:53:01-04

Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the state of Florida of putting the public's health at risk during the 2016 algae crisis.

The report also blasted state agencies for how they tested the toxic algae charging them with purposely presenting inaccurate results.

At Central Marine in Stuart, Mary Radabaugh remembers the symptoms her employees dealt with during the 2016 algae crisis.

"Nothing that anyone would want to experience," says Radabaugh.

The long-term health affects of toxic algae is a big question mark though a recent Ohio State University study links algae and liver disease.

The ACLU report shows state agencies didn't do enough to look at health impacts and didn't act fast enough.

Algae was spotted in May of 2016, but according to the ACLU, Florida's Department of Health didn't issue a health warning until the end of June.

Environmental Engineer Gary Goforth is quoted in the report.

"Disappointment they have not indicated that they'd be increasing the human health monitoring associated with the toxic algae," says Goforth.

Martin County residents who live on the water agree they felt information coming to them from the state was too slow.

“We didn’t know when it was safe to go boating, when it was safe for the kids to go into the water,” said Rio resident Alexandra Deza.

She has three children and two dogs. She worried about their health and safety over the summer. “It was ridiculous in the delay that we went through for simple knowledge,” Deza said.

She was concerned about how long it took to learn the test results of water samples.

“It took a couple weeks to figure out what was in the water but by then, you have new growth. New bacteria. It seemed to us that no one really cared,” Deza said.

The Department of Environmental Protection sent us this statement in response to the report:

"Florida has an extremely robust system for keeping residents and visitors informed regarding environmental events. Throughout last summer, DEP issued daily press releases and notices to keep the public and the media informed. These updates included information from three separate state agencies as well as maps, graphics and data."

Please see more information on the aggressive response actions taken by DEP below:

DEP and Florida’s water management districts frequently monitor Florida’s water quality, and routinely collect algal bloom samples as soon as they are observed as part of this effort. In addition, staff can be deployed to take additional samples in response to reported blooms – whether from a citizen, other response team agencies or other sources.

To keep residents and visitors informed, DEP has a website where it posts the dates and locations of samples collected. Test results are added as they become available. Last year, DEP also proactively sent algal bloom updates and sample results to the more than 10,000 subscribers who signed up to receive this information via email.

To make it easier for residents and visitors to report algal blooms, last year DEP launched a toll-free hotline and online system for reporting algal blooms . Additional staff were also deployed to more rapidly survey and sample areas impacted by the algal blooms last year. A total of 225 samples were collected and processed by DEP’s laboratory in response to reported blooms as well as the state’s increased sampling efforts during the 2016 algal event.

DEP collected samples at locations that best represent the overall condition and water quality of the bloom-affected water. Most samples are processed in DEP’s nationally certified lab and the results are shared with the Department of Health and posted on our website for the public. Persistent blooms are routinely monitored and retested.

DEP will continue work with federal, state and local agencies to continue to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible to both observed and reported algal blooms."