The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 22 will operate an Indiantown test site for its study examining the health effects of inhaling blue-green algae toxins.
The CDC postponed the data collection, initially scheduled for July 15, by one week because no volunteers had enrolled, said Florida Atlantic University nursing professor Shirley Gordon, who’s helping to lead the study.
That’s despite the CDC paying up to $300 for volunteering, depending on the research activities completed each day, Gordon said.
Scroll down for more information on what participating entails.
The CDC is seeking Treasure Coast volunteers to participate in the $1.6 million study to determine whether toxins from cyanobacteria, commonly called blue-green algae, can enter our bodies through the air we breathe.
A separate test site in Clewiston received only three volunteers, so that event also was postponed to July 22 to give more time for outreach and interested participants to sign up, Gordon said. The town of 8,000 residents lies just southwest of Lake O.
Overall, 20 people are enrolled in a study meant for 150 people, and 67 people had contacted researchers interested in participating, according to Gordon.
There’s likely a number of reasons for the low turnout so far, Gordon said. The research requires participation five separate times over the course of an algal bloom, leaving some busy people wary to sign up.
Another likely barrier is outreach and getting the word out. That’s why Gordon will join fellow FAU nursing professor Kathi Harvey Wednesday to distribute fliers advertising the study at businesses and organizations in both Indiantown and Clewiston, she said.
“For some, the timing is wrong,” Gordon told TCPalm. “We don’t know exactly when (algal) blooms will occur, so it’s hard to give people definitive dates and times when we will actually collect the data.”
What will CDC researchers study?
There is a lot of anecdotal data from people who have reported such common symptoms as red, watery, irritated eyes; sore throat; coughing; and trouble breathing.
The CDC study will try to determine whether inhaling aerosols — tiny, suspended particles in the air — has a significant effect on lung and kidney function, Gordon said.
“Toxins can enter the body in multiple ways and one of the ways is by breathing them in,” Gordon said. “This is one of the first studies that’s actually looking at that aerosolization.”
The CDC research is being conducted now to coincide with toxic algal blooms flaring up in Lake Okeechobee and the C-44 Canal, which stretches from Port Mayaca east to the St. Lucie Lock and Dam southwest of Indiantown, Palm City and Stuart. Blooms are more likely during the warmer, wetter months of summer.
The Port Mayaca bloom contained 130 parts per billion of the toxin microcystin on June 21, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s water sample results.
That’s over 16 times higher than the 8 parts per billion threshold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets when water becomes too hazardous to touch, ingest or inhale for people, pets and wildlife.
A health alert remains in effect at Port Mayaca as well as Timer Powers Park in Indiantown, where the state last week detected trace amounts of toxin in an algal bloom, the Florida health department office in Martin County confirmed July 7.
“By looking at the results from all study participants, we may be able to tell which symptoms are likely to be a result of exposure to cyanotoxins,” the CDC said.
Some previous studies were done during the 2018 bloom:
Requirements to join the study
The initial research for volunteers will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 22 at the Indiantown YMCA and the DOH office in Clewiston. Study participants must:
- Be 18 or older
- Live or work near Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee rivers or any Cape Coral canals
- Spend at least two hours outside on most days.
To join the study or get more information
Contact FAU at 561-297-4631 or [email protected]
Below: CDC’s flier announcing the study
For more news, follow Max Chesnes on Twitter.
Max Chesnes is a TCPalm environment reporter covering issues facing the Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. You can keep up with Max on Twitter @MaxChesnes, email him at [email protected] and give him a call at 772-978-2224.