ATLANTA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will close the public comment period on a proposed study of persons exposed to algae in Lake Okeechobee on Nov. 18.
CDC-2019-0079, published Sept. 17 in the Federal Register, proposes a collection project titled “Aerosols from cyanobacterial blooms: Exposures and health effects in a highly exposed population.”
Algae blooms are a problem in lakes nationwide, according to the CDC. The CDC study is the result of a May 7 closed-door meeting where Congressman Francis Rooney hosted “selected” federal, state and Lee County area leaders to discuss harmful algae blooms. Gov. Ron DeSantis was at that meeting. The general public and members of the press were not allowed.
The CDC seeks 50 persons age 18 or older who have “extensive exposure to CyanoHABs on Lake Okeechobee,” the report states. The participants will take part in a survey that will run March-October 2020.
According to the notice, the CDC will notify potentially interested participants using posted fliers with a phone number to call. CDC will use a phone-based screening survey to choose 50 participants from among the applicants. Participants will be asked to provide baseline data three times: at the start, in the middle and at end of the study period. During the interviews, participants will complete a survey, do a pulmonary function test, provide urine and nasal swabs for analysis of cyanotoxins and provide blood samples for analysis. Before and after each of 12 boat trips, study participants will complete the survey and provide urine and nasal swab specimens. Study participants will also be asked to donate one fish from each trip, to be analyzed for cyanobacterial toxins, along with the GPS Exchange Format file (GPX) of the boat’s travels.
As of Nov. 13, 121 public comments had been posted. Most of the comments were made by coastal residents, with many asking for studies in their own communities.
• “The CDC should most certainly take up a study on the effects of Microcystin on populations along the St. Lucie. As a potential ALS and Alzheimer’s inducing neurotoxin, it is negligent to do anything but attempt to learn more about how to help the affected populations,” wrote Spencer Miller.
• “Our family lives in Matlacha Isles, Lee County, Florida, close to the Gulf near Fort Myers. Last year, my whole family, including myself, my husband and my daughter suffered intense respiratory symptoms all during the red tide episodes. We did not go to the beach and seldom even went outdoors, and always wore respiratory masks when we did, and often had to wear them indoors as well. We ran our air conditioner with HEPA filters and had two additional HEPA air purifying machines in the house. My husband still experienced symptoms so severe, he had to call an ambulance in the early hours of the morning and spend several days in the hospital to restore his breathing. I believe the toxic algae is definitely airborne,” wrote Karen Regan.
• “The algae blooms have impacted the ability of my family and I to picnic near the Indian River Lagoon in Martin County, and to launch and recover a boat,” wrote David Posicich.
• “We have raised our family here in Sarasota County and are very concerned about the short and long term affects of exposure to cyanobacterial blooms and feel STRONGLY that its affects should be tested on humans and animals and marine life immediately and ALL results made public. Dogs died and we saw last year down south of us where pregnant women were living on a boat in completely contaminated waterways. Notices of the risks should not only be posted at beaches and marinas but better coverage on the news,” wrote Sandy Keith.
• A commenter from the lake area questioned the location of the test: “While study of cyanobacteria is certainly needed and welcome, I have to question the selection of Lake Okeechobee as the target for this study. The selection of Lake Okeechobee appears to be for political rather than scientific reasons. During the summer of 2019, algal blooms were minimal in the lake, and most were mixtures of various species of algae and cyanobacteria with no toxins or barely detectable low levels of toxins. One of the algae experiments planned by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers had to be canceled because they could not find a suitable blue green algal bloom to test.”
Public comments may be made online at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=CDC-2019-0079.
Comments may also be mailed to: Jeffrey Zirger, Information Collection Review Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, NE, MS-D74, Atlanta, GA, 30329.