Professor: Unidentified toxins may exist in blue-green algae blooms

Posted at 7:12 PM, Jul 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-29 08:47:13-04

For many of the people who attended a toxic algae meeting Thursday, these are anxious days. They want answers about the slime in the water and air that's been affecting Martin County this summer.

Dr. Larry Brand, a professor from the University of Miami who has been studying the effects of algae in Florida for more than 20 years spoke to the Rivers Coalition about potential health risks coming from a lesser known toxin called BMAA.

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“We are finding more and more evidence that it can lead to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and ALS,” said Brand.

“There’s good reason to believe that there are a bunch of other toxins in these blooms of cyanobacteria which have not been discovered which can also have long term health effects.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Health says it does “not routinely test for BMAA.” However, the DEP says they do typically test for microcystin, cylindrospermospin and anatoxin-a.

Brand admits this isn’t a “proven hypothesis.” He also says the research is controversial.

While more research must be done before drawing any significant or scientific conclusions, many people at the meeting say researchers must continue to investigate.

“The scariest part is the unknowns,” said Kenny Hinkle Jr. with Bullsugar.Org. “What we don’t know. That’s the most terrifying part. I don’t know the long term effects that I may have in the future.”

“I’m very concerned. I don’t touch fish,” said Douglas Ashley, a local realtor. “What worries me is the same idea. We don’t want to discourage people from living here. We don’t want to discourage tourists from coming here. But people should understand what the health issues are.”

Meanwhile, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the safety of the waterways in Martin County, even though the algae seems to be clearing up.

“I’m not going boating. I’m not going fishing. I’m not going in the water,” said Joe Gilio of Palm City. He was also at the Rivers Coalition meeting Thursday morning.

He admits the water looks 10 times better than it did earlier this month.

Most of the densely, matted blue-green algae has gone away. The same goes for the unbearable smells.

However Gilio says that doesn’t mean we should trust our eyes and noses just yet.

“What we cannot see on the surface does not mean it does not hurt us,” said Gilio.

Brand agrees with that statement.

He fears the blue-green algae may have been present even before we could see it on the surface.

“I would say looks are deceiving. Just because you don’t see that surface scum doesn’t mean they’re not down in the water column,” said Brand. Most of the time they’re in the water column sitting on the bottom. It’s only on rare occasions that they float to the surface, which is what you saw a few weeks ago.”

Brand also pointed out that he is very concerned about how long these toxins stick around in the fish and that there is not enough research out there to answer that question.