Health advisory and video: Residents urged to avoid contact with cyanobacteria in river waters



The Florida Department of Health in Martin County has urged residents to avoid contact with cyanobacteria in the St. Lucie River from the Okeechobee Canal to the St. Lucie Inlet, after test results detected bloom concentrations of Microcystis aeruginosa, a type of toxic blue-green algae.

Q: What are blue-green algae (cyanobacteria)?


A: Blue-green algae are a group of organisms that are among the oldest on the planet. They can live in freshwater, salt-water or in mixed “brackish” water. Most of us know them as”pond scum.” These “blue-green” algae can actually be many colors including red, orange or brown. They also have been found to share some characteristics of bacteria, which has led to them being referred to as “cyanobacteria.”



Q: What causes these organisms to form “blooms”?


A:When blue-green algae grow rapidly over a short time it is called a “bloom.” It is known that light, temperature, and the water’s nutrient content play roles in bloom formation. Under the right conditions a large bloom can form overnight, and rise to the surface as a huge unsightly mat of pond scum. A blue-green algae bloom can also lie below the surface of the water. Blooms can disappear or move to different parts of a pond or lake.



Q: What causes some blooms to be toxic?


A:Scientists do not know why some blue-green algae produce toxins. Most blue-green algae do not produce chemicals harmful to humans or animals. However, some types make natural substances called cyanotoxins. It is not possible to tell just by looking at a bloom. Over time, these toxins are diluted and eventually break down and disappear.



Q: How can I be affected by blue-green algae toxins?


A: Blue-green algae toxins can affect the liver, nervous system, and skin. Most problems happen when water containing high toxin amounts is ingested. Abdominal cramps,nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting may occur if untreated water is swallowed. Rashes can happen when skin is exposed to the algae when swimming.



Q: How can I prevent exposure to these toxins?


A: Most people avoid a blue-green algae bloom because they tend to be icky-looking and smelly. It is important that pets and children are kept away from blue-green algae blooms. Children are generally more vulnerable to environmental toxins than adults. Boiling water does not remove or destroy these toxins.


For river water sampling results:


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