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Do we know the truth about algae blooms?

As we head into summer and the predictable outbreak of blue-green algae in waters from the lakes called Great to one named Okeechobee, it’s notable that U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) has issued a call for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make the public aware of the threats to health caused by toxic algae blooms. And it’s none too soon.

We’ve been talking about this subject for years — green slime outbreaks in waterways across the country and the detrimental impact they have on boating and, therefore, boat sales. But it’s time for governments at all levels to acknowledge what we’re really talking about: a human health crisis that calls for action.

While stepped-up research is in order, there is already substantial evidence confirming the health crisis, according to Howard Simon, who is coordinating with a team of scientists on the Project to Clean Up Okeechobee Waters. Here are some hard-hitting facts that need to be known.

Blue-green algae are known to be laden with microcystins that can cause liver cancer. This algae also produces BMAA (beta-Methylamino-L-alanine), a toxin linked to neuro-degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s.

Equally disturbing, high concentrations of BMAA have also been found in seafood in South Florida waters where blue green algae blooms have occurred. Eating contaminated food is known to lead to ALS and Alzheimer’s. That’s bad enough, but reports from Dartmouth’s Dr. Elijah Stommel will shake you even more.

Stommel’s research determined that people living near bodies of water with heavy blue-green blooms had 15 times greater the chance of contracting ALS. That’s because marine biologist Mike Parsons, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, has reported finding airborne cyanbacteria toxins as much as a mile from retention ponds and up to three miles from central Florida’s Caloosahatchee River.

It’s fitting that we look to federal agencies to get serious about addressing the problem. Although this isn’t a new thing, its serious nature is now coming to light.

That said, it’s imperative that states get in the game and aggressively address their algae problems. I’m familiar with the blooms that have been plaguing western Lake Erie for years. Recall, for example, when in 2014 the city of Toledo stopped a half-million residents from using their drinking water that comes from Lake Erie because of the algae bloom.

Ohio and other states have failed to seriously address the problem, which is well-known to emanate primarily from farm fertilizers and manure runoff into streams that feed Lake Erie. The tepid response has been to “study” the situation and, in effect, avoid issuing obvious regulatory changes in farming practices.

Perhaps until now the slime on the waterways hasn’t been enough for public officials to summon the willpower to do their jobs and stop pandering to farm interests. But declaring a public health crisis would take the issue to a much higher level.

As an industry whose future is hitched to clean water, we need to voice demands for meaningful action. Now.


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