Algae removal process worries scientist; she fears toxins may have been released into air

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jul 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-20 18:42:08-04

JENSEN BEACH, Fla.  It's been several days since Ecosphere Technologies finished the job at Outboards Only in Jensen Beach.

The co-owner of Outboards Only, Phil Norman, said the water hasn't looked as good as it does now in nearly a year.

"We're back to work, we're back to doing our thing. We can stand here and not have to wear respirators," Norman said.

But he added that the process of removing the algae was only a temporary fix.

Special section: Toxic Water

Ecosphere Technologies sucked the algae out of the water, treated it to kill bacteria, then sent the water back into the marina.

"Our technology actually targets the core of the bacteria cell wall, exploding them so they cannot thrive and live while also increasing the oxygen levels in the water," said Corey McGuire, marketing director of Ecosphere Technologies.

McGuire said the water is clean and safe when it's sent back into the marina.

But Dr. Kathleen Rein, chemistry professor at Florida International University, fears the process may have sent toxins into the air.

"You're breaking up these cells, you're creating aerosols with toxin in it," she said.

She fears the aerosols could have the same effect of those who come in contact with red tide on the west coast of Florida.

"People do experience respiratory distress during red tides and it's due to these aerosols," Rein said.

She said the staff with Ecosphere Technologies should have waited for air quality test results to come back in before moving forward with the job.

Those test results aren't available yet, according to Martin County officials.

McGuire is confident that what was sent back into the marina wasn't toxin and didn't harm those around it.

"Our technology happens to be the highest volume advanced oxidation process in the world and we proved this week that we can take a toxic environment and clean it up and revitalize it," McGuire said.

As for those at Outboards Only, they say they're grateful Ecosphere Technologies did the work for free to help get them back to work.

"Somebody has to take a chance, somebody's got to do something. We can't just wait around on the politicians and scientists. Do something. Even if it's wrong. Let's do something right now," Norman said.

Following our story Echosphere Technologies released this statement:

A Brief Scientific Explanation:
Algal cell walls and membranes are broken down by ozone; releasing the intracellular chlorophyll, cyanotoxins and other metabolites into the water. The non-conjugated double bonds of chlorophyll are broken by ozone oxidation and are oxidized as carboxylic acid which is further mineralized into carbon dioxide and water depending upon the amount of dissolved ozone, amount of hydroxyl radical formation, pH, presence of other dissolved organic matter and alkalinity of the water.

Of all the cyanotoxins being released into the water, mycrocystins (MCs) are the most abundant and toxic to human and animal life. There are about 80 different varieties of these MCs in the nature. However, MC-LR is the most toxic of them all and is the most widespread toxin present in waters infested with algal bloom. Ozone specifically reacts very rapidly with this particular toxin due to the favorable steric conditions such as presence of aromatic conjugated C-C double bonds in the Adda side chain of the MC-LR molecule along with the presence of the methoxy group.

Ozone attacks these double bonds and adds hydroxyl groups to these double bonds creating diol intermediates. The Adda side chain breaks away from the main cyclic ring of the MC-LR during this process. The cyclic structure is further broken down into linearized peptides which are further degraded into aldehyde based byproducts. The Adda fragments as well as the linearized peptide fragments are easy to break down and are further broken down through hydroxylation, oxidation and bond cleavage into intermediates such as fatty acids, alcohols, aldehydes and ketones. Researchers have found intermediates such as glyoxal, methylglyoxal, acetaldehyde, isovaleraldehyde, acetaldehyde, formaldhyde using LC-MS. Voltaile organic compounds such as 1-hexanol, 1-heptanol, heptanal, 2-octenal, 1-nonanol and β-Cyclocitral are also observed using GC-MS.

The intermediates observed during ozone degradation of algal bloom water are less toxic than the originally secreted cyanotoxins by the algae and are easily mineralized further into carbon dioxide, carbonate and bicarbonate ions and water.

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