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EPA is asked to set blue-green algae toxin standards for Florida

Blue-green algae, such as that seen here, can be harmful to both animals and humans.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
/
Courtesy
Blue-green algae, such as that seen here, can be harmful to both animals and humans.

Florida’s lakes, rivers, springs and estuaries have some of the nation’s worst toxic algae blooms, which can threaten the health of people and wildlife, while costing local economies hundreds of millions of dollars.

The blooms are said to be fueled by nutrient pollution, water-management decisions and climate change.

Now, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Calusa Waterkeeper, Friends of the Everglades, Florida Wildlife Federation, and the city of Stuart have asked the federal government to set limits on blue-green algae toxins found in Florida waters.

The EPA had officially recommended criteria in 2019 for two of the most common cyanotoxins: microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.

States are not required to adopt the EPA recommendations, but they are supposed to explain their reasoning for not adopting them, and the Center for Biological Diversity said the state has not done that.

“We are dependent on a clean, healthy St Lucie River here in Stuart. Any business tied to the water fears their livelihood will be lost when toxic algae appears. The economic impact is devastating to our town and its people.” Stuart Mayor Becky Bruner
Stuart Mayor Becky Bruner

Advocates had also asked Florida environmental officials to establish the criteria five years ago, but Jason Totoiu, with the center, said the state failed to act.

Now, they’re petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to set water-quality standards.

"It would have these numeric standards in place in which to guide them towards both maintaining and restoring water quality," Totoiu said.

So, when water is deemed "impaired" it would need to be cleaned.

"When people are going out swimming or boating or fishing or surfing or recreating in multiple different ways ... what else can we be doing to ensure that the public is protected?" Totoiu said.

Parts of Florida experienced massive blooms between 2005 and 2018, and just about every year since 2019, there have been large blooms in Lake Okeechobee, which can then be released by water managers into the Caloosahatchee River on the west coast and the St. Lucie River on the east coast.

“We’ve seen with our own eyes the devastating impact of the toxic blue green algae as it leaves Lake Okeechobee and dumps by the billions of gallons of dirty water into our C44 St. Lucie canal heading out to our St Lucie River Estuary,” said Stuart Mayor Becky Bruner, who signed the petition.

“I and the people who’ve lived here for decades know the devastation we’ve endured from the toxic algae blooms.”

Bruner talked about one family in particular which lived along the river when their dog ate the toxic algae and died.

“We are dependent on a clean, healthy St Lucie River here in Stuart. Any business tied to the water fears their livelihood will be lost when toxic algae appears. The economic impact is devastating to our town and its people,” Bruner said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not comment in time for this story.

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Jessica Meszaros