While most of the country was seeing red, white, and blue this past Fourth of July, many Florida residents were seeing green.
Massive algae blooms filled the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon with thick, green, toxic slime, promoting Florida governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in the countries on the state’s Atlantic Coast, reported USA Today.
The algae are believed to be a result of discharges flowing out of nutrient-polluted Lake Okeechobee in southeast Florida. The discharge were initiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville to prevent flooding, according to ABC News. “It has been a challenging year for south Florida”, the Corps’ district commander, Col. Jason Kirk, said, according to ABC. “Our water managers have ealt with such large quantities of rain and runoff entering into the lake that it would cover the entire state of Delaware in two feet of water.”
Since the discharges started Jan. 30 about 150 billion gallons of the lake’s water has been sent to the river, dumping nutrients and lowering the salinity of the naturally brackish water, reported USA Today.
Due to the extent of the algae growth, the U.S. Army Corps recently started reducing the amount of freshwater flowing from Lake Okeechobee.
Blue-green algae can cause a variety of health problems, including nausea and vomiting if ingested and rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled.
If it contaminates drinking water, blue-green algae can cause long-term liver disease. Some research even suggests it may be linked to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Officials are also investigating if the toxic algae could be related to headaches, respiratory issues, and rashes that residents report have occurred since the algae first started growing, reported ABC News.
One resident of Stuart, FL, one of the towns most affected by the algae, is worried about the health of her family, as reported by ABC News. “The headaches, the sinus pressure is extreme,” said Chris Palas, “It’s just an awful feeling. As a mom, I have a 5-year old daughter and you just worry, how is this going to affect her long-term?”
Algae is most often caused by high levels of nutrients and phosphorus, something that wastewater discharge can contribute to. The Florida crisis drives home just how important effective nutrient removal, and monitoring is for utilities.