MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Florida Department of Health recently put up health alert signs at two canals in the city of Plantation alerting residents of small blue-green algae blooms in the canals and the presence of a toxin in the water.
According to records posted online by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, testing at the canal along 16th Street in Plantation, showed that low levels of a toxin, microsystis aerugnisa, was spotted and “algae observed throughout water column with surface accumulation in stagnant portions.” Microsystis can be harmful to pets and people.
Despite the test results, this appears to be a far cry from the massive blue-green algae blooms seen in various parts of the state over the past few years. In the Plantation canals, there are no observable fish kills or pungent odors emanating from the waters.
However, water experts say this is part of an ongoing problem across the state and that everyone should pay attention to it. Even though the levels of microsystis that were detected in the canals were low, it was enough for the Florida Department of Health to put up signs warning people about it. The signs tell people to stay out of the water, not to get the water in their eyes, nose or mouth and to keep their pets away from the water.
According to information on the DEP website, the World Health Organization “considers toxin levels under 10 micrograms/liter to represent a low-level risk for adverse health outcomes from short-term recreational exposure.” The test results posted on the agency’s website from the Plantation canals show that levels of microsystin were at 11.06 micrograms per liter in one canal and at 6.7 micrograms per liter in another.
Experts say blue-green algae blooms often appear when the weather and the water is warm and storms carry runoff to the water. Nutrients — like nitrogen and phosphorus — get in the water through agricultural runoff, broken sewer lines, lawn fertilizers, and grass clippings. Toxins can be produced that can be dangerous to people’s health.
Shannon Estenoz, Chief Operating Officer at The Everglades Foundation, said what’s occurring in a small amount in Plantation is occurring statewide.
“When it gets to the point where people can’t swim in the water and they can’t fish in the water and they can’t come into contact with the water, that’s a problem,” she said. “What’s happening in this neighborhood is happening all over the state of Florida. Blue-green algae is a sign of too much pollution.”
Glen Cox lives in Plantation. He says he’s never seen the water have blue-green algae in it. He’s concerned about it spreading further and said he’s speaking out to bring awareness to the issue.
“I don’t think you can address a problem if you ignore it,” Cox said. “The more vocal you are about it, the more people are aware, I think the more action will be taken.
“We’ve seen what’s happened up north, we don’t want it happening here.”
Cox is referring to toxic blue green algae blooms that deeply impacted communities further north in Florida in recent years.
CBS 4 News spoke by phone with Dr. Evelyn Gaiser, a Professor of Biological Sciences at Florida International University and a member of the state’s new Blue Green Algae Task Force.
“Hopefully this is a short term phenomenon (in Plantation) and it doesn’t sound like it’s as severe as we’ve seen in other waterbodies in our state,” Gaiser said.
She added that the task force is studying the issue statewide looking at where harmful nutrients are coming from, which kinds of nutrients are stimulating the toxic algae and how to protect our waterways.
“I’m confident that the task force will come up with recommendations that will really make a difference,” she said.
In the meantime, Shannon Estenoz says everyone can play a role by protecting the waters near them.
“Be really thoughtful about it and recognize that almost everything you put on your lawn — not everything — but almost everything — is gonna eventually wind up in the groundwater or in the canal in your neighborhood,” Estenoz said.
Estenoz says she is hopeful that work being done by the state will make a difference. She cited the formation of the Blue Green Algae Task Force, the appointment of a state Science Officer and significant funding at the request of Governor Ron DeSantis to deal with the issue.
A spokesperson with the DEP said in an email that they are working to test waters throughout the state when possible blooms occur and they are working to reduce harmful nutrients — like nitrogen and phosphorus —from getting into waterways.