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EPA issues recommendations for level of toxin from blue-green algae considered harmful for swimming

Posted at 11:40 PM, May 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-24 04:17:31-04

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ST LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued new recommendations for what it says should be considered a dangerous level of exposure to cyanotoxins, released by blue-green algae, when swimming.

The standards apply to two cyanotoxins: microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.

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The EPA says microcystin levels above 8 Micrograms per liter (Parts Per Billion), and cylindrospermopsin above 15 micrograms per liter can be harmful to people swimming or participating in other activities in or on the water. The EPA said these recommendations are protective of all age groups.

EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator David Ross said, “With Memorial Day and summer vacations around the corner, EPA is providing this information to help Americans know when it is safe to swim and play near the water. EPA’s new recommendations will help state and local officials make informed decisions about when to issue local water quality and swimming advisories that are designed to protect the public, especially vulnerable populations like our nation’s children.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast reacted to the recommendations.

“Last summer, the Army Corps discharged water to the St. Lucie that later was confirmed to contain 495 parts per billion of the toxin microcystin. Today the EPA confirmed what we know to be true: that is extraordinarily dangerous to human health. The EPA has now stated that it is unsafe at any level above 8 parts per billion. If the Army Corps continues to discharge water above this level of toxicity, they will be knowingly poisoning millions of people in Florida. Their operations must change to prioritize human health,” said Mast in a Facebook post.

“It’s really significant that they’ve finally taken this step to say this is going to be a standard,” said Mark Perry, the Executive Director at Florida Oceanographic.

“We’re going to have to pay attention to it. And somebody is going to have to be held accountable for exposing the community to those health effects,” Perry said.

What is yet to be seen, according to local environmental experts, is how the state will implement and enforce these standards.

“We don’t have the resources to get out there and monitor every sighting or every day where that harmful toxin levels are in the water body,” said Mark Perry, Executive Director at Florida Oceanographic

He says this shows swimmers may have been exposed to harmful levels of the toxins for years.

“Like, last year, 2018, 2016, there were levels at 400 to 500 micrograms per liter, and even 30,000. 30,000 micrograms per liter in some of the marinas,” Perry said.

Perry says it is also unknown what impact these recommendations might have on Lake Okeechobee releases if toxin levels from blue-green algae in the lake should ever exceed the level considered harmful by the EPA.

“What does that mean if it get to a high enough level and they have to start discharging? Or what does it mean in the lake?” asked Perry.

At 8 parts per billion, he says toxic conditions for swimmers might not always be visible, which is why he says regular monitoring is important.
The EPA said it will soon release draft technical support materials for public comment that, when final, should help states and authorized tribes in implementing these recommendations.