From Maggy Hurchalla, a 20-year Martin County Commissioner, an active member of numerous Governor Commissions on the Everglades, water and planning, a lifelong advocate for wetlands preservation, a winner of national, state and local environmental and conservation awards regarding wetlands, land planning, water studies. She is a resident of Rocky Point:
The sky wasn’t falling. The silly bird panicked over a little acorn.
But the sky is falling on Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon.
Call it cyanobacteria or call it green slime, it’s real, it’s here, and it’s dangerous.
From time to time, the state tests a few algae blooms in the river and tells us whether they were producing microcystin toxins four days earlier.
Those toxins can kill your cow or your dog if they lap them up. Most people have enough sense not to do that.
But we do love to fish and play in our waterways — especially on hot summer days. Microcystin can cause rashes on contact. Eating contaminated fish can cause liver damage. You don’t want to play in it. You don’t want your dinner to live in it.
When the tests come back negative, are we supposed to relax and take the kids out to the sandbar?
The signs stay up, but some believe negative tests mean it’s OK to go splash.
The South Florida Water Management District Hazardous Algal Blooms site notes that in Lake Okeechobee, monitoring indicates high toxin levels have been measured when there is no apparent bloom. The toxin doesn’t go away when the algae dies.
Researchers measuring toxin levels in sediments in shallow eutrophic lakes (think Lake Okeechobee) found toxins persisted in sediments.
Researchers around the world have been warning that cyanobacteria blooms are a growing problem with serious public health consequences.
But microcystis bacteria and microcystin toxins are only a part of the cyanobacteria problem. They may be the leastscary part. There are a number of different cyanobacteria species. Most of them produce an array of microtoxins, not just microcystin. A lot of them live in Florida waters.
So should you go home to Kansas? That won’t help. There is microcystin in the reservoir that supplies Wichita’s drinking water.
But worse than the microcystin toxin is the specter of a toxin called beta- me t h y la m i n o- Lalanine, or BMAA, a compound produced by cyanobacteria.
We have it. We don’t know how much. The state doesn’t test for it.
It has been proven to cause a neurological disease in Guam similar to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
It is a widely supported hypothesis that chronic exposure can cause neurological diseases in humans.
Exposure of rats and monkeys to BMAA has caused neurological diseases.
In New Hampshire, France and the Chesapeake Bay, researchers have found ALS clusters that correlate with high BMAA levels.
The mechanism whereby BMAA causes “misfolding of proteins” in the brain has been described and replicated. Misfolded proteins are part of the cascade of changes in the brain that can end up as ALS, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
The effect of exposure is delayed 30 years or more.
It is still a hypothesis.
It’s not “proven” that it causes those diseases.
For that reason, the Florida Department of Health states, “There are millions of potential environmental exposures and additional research is necessary.”
Chicken Little might get upset about all those millions of possible environmental exposures.
That doesn’t mean we can laugh off our clear and present danger.
That doesn’t mean we can go water skiing or eat fish when a river of cyanobacteria is being dumped on us by state and local authorities.
Folks working on the hazardous algal bloom program for various agencies are doing their best with the resources they’ve been given.
It’s not good enough.
Those who are being exposed need to know what’s happening.
We need to ask the governor and the president to immediately create a state/ federal research team to explore the health threats from cyanobacteria in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River estuary.
We need to ask the Legislature to require monitoring and treatment to reduce phosphorous flow to Lake Okeechobee from all directions. Voluntary “best management practices” have not worked. Untreated, pumped discharges to the lake are still going on.
We need to demonstrate there is an environmental end game for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and that we are going to buy the land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to send the water south.