Big blooms gone, but blue-green algae remains in St. Lucie River, still a health threat
Another algae outbreak has residents reeling in Martin and St. Lucie counties heading into the summer of 2018.
If you think the end of summer means the end of blue-green algae blooms in the St. Lucie River, think again.
Blooms may be getting rarer as we near October, but algae is still in the water, and it's still a health threat.
Algae was blooming Thursday morning throughout the boat basin at Central Marine on the north side of the river in Stuart.
The streaks of green and bubbles in the water were nothing like the thick guacamole-like mats of algae that made the marina ground zero for the blooms in 2016, but marina manager Mary Radabaugh said the chemical smell was just as bad Thursday.
Radabaugh reported getting a headache after being around the algae for 10 minutes.
“Immediately when I walk out there, I can feel it,” she said.
Even small amounts are dangerous
Throughout this week, there's been algae on both sides of the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam, where Lake O water is discharged toward the St. Lucie River, and at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, where it actually enters the river, the Army Corps of Engineers reports.
No toxins were found in the most recent algae samples, taken at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam on Sept. 6, Sept. 13 and Sept. 20, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
There doesn't have to be a large bloom for the algae to be hazardous.
An Aug. 27 sample from the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart contained the toxin microcystin at more than twice the level considered hazardous by the World Health Organization. The DEP crew said the small patch was "observed in water column and on surface."
Scientists have discovered a link between blooms of cyanobacteria - blue-green algae - like the kind seen on lakes and rivers in Florida - with Alzheimers and ALS disease. ED KILLER/TCPALM
Heed the warning signs
People should heed the "avoid contact" warning signs Stuart and Martin County governments installed at public access sites along the river, said Renay Rouse, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health office in Martin County.
"The reality is that we don't know if the algae is toxic until it's tested," Rouse said. "The safest thing to do is avoid contact. So what we're telling people is: When in doubt, stay out."
Exposure to microcystin, which is often — but not always — produced by blue-green algae blooms, can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested and rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled. Drinking water with the toxins can cause long-term liver disease.
Toxins found in people's noses
You don't have to touch the algae to come in contact with microcystin.
Researchers at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute studying people who live and/or work along the St. Lucie River reported in mid-September that everyone tested to that point had "detectable levels" of the microcystin in their noses.
“At this time, we don’t know what long-term effects our community might experience as a result of exposure to cyanobacteria," said Dr. Michael Romano, inpatient medical director and chairman of the Infection Prevention & Control Committee at Martin Health System, referring to the scientific name for blue-green algae. "That’s why studies like the one being conducted by Harbor Branch and others are so important."
Romano recommends anyone who has been exposed to the algae and feels they are experiencing related symptoms see their primary care physician.
Staffer Leah Voss contributed to this report.