Dangerous Algae Blooms Threaten Florida Residents' Health
FLORIDA — July 10, 2018
The blue-green algae bloom fills about 90 percent of the Lake Okeechobee, which has a surface area of 730 square miles. It raises concerns about the health risks of exposure and the impact on the economy, officials said.
It is known to be Florida’s largest freshwater lake. It is also used for commercial and sports fishing , and is one of several across the United States that scientists are currently monitoring.
According to Jason Pim, who lives near the lake, the smell is lcurrently ike opening a bag of moldy bread. A foam like substance has formed across the top of the lake.
"To just watch it in the water and kind of just lap up and down with the water is a pretty eerie sight," he said. "It’s kind of mesmerizing."
"An unusually large algae bloom has filled the lake with a pea-soup-like mixture that has built up because of rain, hot weather and a heavy concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer," Said Richard P. Stumpf, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
He warned that if people come in contact with the algae, they should wash it off immediately to avoid skin irritation.
The algae in Lake Okeechobee can be toxic if consumed and it can also be fatal for dogs that swim in or drink the scum.
National Oceanic specialists will soon check the lake for the presence of substances harmful to people. If it turns out the water is contaminated, they will have to close the area for residency.
An algae bloom in 2014 in Lake Erie in Ohio left 500,000 people without drinking water for three days, but this is probably one of the best possible outcomes.
There is a growing perceptions that algae blooms are becoming more frequent and severe but federal agencies, including NOAA and the United States Geological Survey, are doing research to determine whether this is actually the case, Mr. Stumpf said.
Florida lawmakers have asked Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency near Lake Okeechobee, through which the Caloosahatchee River runs.
John Cassani, the head of the nonprofit Calusa Waterkeeper, who has worked on the river for about 40 years, said the bloom was “historic.” According to satellite image taken on June 12, only 1 percent of the lake was covered in algae. By July 2, 90 percent of the lake was covered.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mr. Cassani said. He has avoided spending too much time near the river because of the increased possibility of respiratory irritation.
Additionally, Lake Okeechobee flows into the 67-mile-long Caloosahatchee River and both play a large role in Florida’s tourism economy.
Sharon Anderson, an environmental team leader at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Ithaca, N.Y., said there was significant concern over harmful algae blooms in the Finger Lakes last year.
"One of them, Owasco Lake, was plagued by algae blooms last year, and this year “suspicious” blooms have been spotted in Cayuga Lake," she said.