NewsPinellas County


State considering new regulations for toxins created by Blue-Green Algae

Posted at 7:23 PM, Jul 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-08 19:23:23-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Blue-green algae blooms have been popping up all over Florida as the summer sun and nutrients in our waterways feed and help them grow.

It’s why the state DEP wants to add new regulations in to better identify danger zones, warn the public and restore those waterways.

In the south, it seems to resemble split pea soup. Near the Tampa Bay, folks say they’ve seen squishy and slimy balls that look like rocks.

"Stay away from it because it can be toxic,” said Kelli Levy, the Devision Director for the Pinellas County Environmental Management.

Fortunately, most of the algae found this summer in the bay area hasn’t tested toxic but Levy says the state lacks a water quality threshold for these types of toxins.

"We don’t have any standards for the various types of toxins that these algae produce,” she said.

That makes it harder to warn folks of potential danger. It’s why the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is evaluating new standards and considering a similar system already in place when it comes to bacteria in water.

"When bacteria reaches a certain threshold, the Department of Health will post an advisory not to go in the water because it’s not safe,” Levy said.

But, she says that’s only part of the problem - when people feed the algae bloom with things like fertilizer, reclaimed water, and sewage, they grow.

"Typically, a lot of these blooms initiate with nitrogen. And so the bottom line is the state needs to go on a diet,” she said.

Since 2011, Pinellas County has banned the use and sale of fertilizer from June until the end of September. Officials say they do spot checks on local companies to make sure they aren’t cheating.

The state says the changes would create strategies to reduce nutrients.

The FDEP sent a statement saying, "The water quality criteria would be utilized like other surface water quality criteria. It will be used to determine if a waterbody is impaired (i.e.; not meeting water quality standards) . If a waterbody is determined to be impaired, it would be addressed through the Department’s water quality restoration process, with restoration projects and strategies identified focused on reducing nutrients. (In addition, these criteria would also typically be used by DOH to inform statewide health guidance so they are able to promptly issue protective health advisories to the public related to blue-green algal blooms and any associated cyanotoxins"

Levy says we can all do our part right now to help. Clean up grass clippings and dog waste, don’t use reclaimed water for anything but grass and never use fertilizer during the summer months.