Florida Health Department Issues Toxic Algae Alert in Pinellas County

Uncovering Florida

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Cover photo for illustrative purposes only. Jar of Blue-Green Algae from Wolfske Bay Lake, Menomin.Photo byNOAA Great Lakes Environment Environmental Research Laboratory | Flickr

Frequently occurring algae blooms that can be toxic to humans are raging at Lake Seminole Boat Ramp right now. An alert issued by the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County (DOH) on April 26 warns residents and visitors about the dangers to your health, as well as what precautions you can take to reduce your chances of getting sick.

The algae in question is Blue-Green Algae, also known as cyanobacteria. On the surface, they may appear harmless, causing water discoloration, floating mats, and emission of unpleasant odors, but they pose a variety of risks to human and animal health upon exposure.

For some, minor exposure can cause skin irritation and rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, while those sensitive to smell may experience respiratory discomfort; however, it's high, long-term exposure to these toxic blooms that can cause real damage, attacking the liver, as well as your body's nervous system.

Blue-Green Algae blooms also can cause damage to Florida's ecosystems, including fish and other aquatic animals. While it can cause kills, fish that were tested from water with concentrations of blue-green algae show that their cyanotoxins do not significantly accumulate in the edible muscle and filets; however, they can in other organs.

The DOH recommends those planning to consume fish caught in affected waterways to throw out the guts and to cook well, completely avoiding eating shellfish found in any waters affected by blue-green algae blooms.

So how else can you avoid getting sick? In the alert, DOH-Pinellas issued a list of precautions you can take. Check them out below:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, or use personal watercraft or boats in waters with a visible bloom — this also goes for your furry friends!
  • Keep pets away from the area. Pets should not drink water when algae blooms are present. Waters with algae blooms are not safe for animals.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts, and cook fish well. 
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection regularly collects and analyzes algal bloom samples. If you've spotted one, you can report it to DEP at their toll-free hotline, 855-305-3903, or by online submission here. You can also track blooms and water quality reports at protectingfloridatogether.gov.

If you believe you've been sick due to contact with blue-green algae, contact or visit your doctor, or call the Florida Poison Information Center at 1-800-222-1222. To report fish kills, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at 1-800-636-0511.

For other health questions or concerns about blue-green algae blooms, call DOH-Pinellas at (727) 507-4336.

Article by Rachael Volpe

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