Health department tests water at Pahokee marina for fecal bacteria

Posted 4/28/21

Clean up is underway for a toxic algal bloom at the Pahokee marina

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Health department tests water at Pahokee marina for fecal bacteria


 PAHOKEE  -- The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County has issued a health alert for the Pahokee marina.

On Wednesday, April 28, the health department took water samples at the marina which will be tested for  E. coli and some additional parameters to determine the existence of fecal waste in the area, according to Deborah Drum, director of  Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management.

Drum said the test results should be back by the end of the week.

For weeks local residents have complained about the growing mass of algae which has been increasing within the closed marina basin.

 Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) sampled  algae bloom on April 26.  The sample has returned positive for Microcystis aeruginosa, with a toxicity level of 860 micrograms/liter.  The World Health Organization considers 8 micrograms/liter to be the safe limit for human recreational exposure to the microcystin toxin.

On Wednesday, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) contractors were on site removing the bulk of the algae and sending the liquid waste to a West Palm Beach wastewater treatment plant.

The solids are being applied to vacant SFWMD lands.

Once the contractor gets the major mats out, FDEP will get one of their Innovative Technology contractors to come clean the water in the marina.  This may involve the addition of a polymer to consolidate any additional solids and then oxidation to remove the algae “fuel.”

FDEP and SFWMD are cooperating to do all monitoring associated with this operation.

SFWMD said that this is an “all hands on deck” approach, and are working closely with FDEP on this clean up.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she is concerned about the source of the nutrients feeding the massive algae bloom.

In 2018, after a similar bloom at the marina Palm Beach County health officials tested the water for fecal coliform bacteria and found raw sewage in the water, according to a 2018 article in the Palm Beach Post.

“When I talk about pumping stations, I mean the ones that are on the dock, that are supposed to pump the waste out of the boats,” said McKinlay. “Not all of those are working.

“There are historical problems," she continued.

"We do hear complaints from some of the people who are living here at the campground, that historically those systems have not been working,” McKinlay said. “DEP was here in 2018, willing to work with the state on a clean vessel grant. We’re trying to figure out whether that was received and if those funds were used to repair that equipment."

McKinlay said local leaders claimed the problems were fixed, but she is not convinced.

“They haven’t been able to prove that to me, and it’s not operating the way it is supposed to,” she said.

“They received $2.3 million over the past five years from the Department of Economic Opportunity.” She said under their lease with the state to operate the marina, “they are under a contractual obligation to operate a full time marina, and they are not doing that.”

In an April 28 letter to the Lake Okeechobee News, J.P. Sasser, former Mayor of Pahokee raised similar concerns. "Equipment has been stolen -- particularly the sewage equipment to pump out the boats," he wrote. "Add that to the lines leaking and over the years this has led to a well documented environmental health issue."

The public is encouraged to exercise caution in and around Lake Okeechobee near the Pahokee Marina located in the City of Pahokee, Florida.

Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that occur frequently in Florida’s freshwater environments, according to the Florida Department of Health.

A bloom occurs when rapid growth of algae leads to an accumulation of individual cells that discolor water and often produce floating mats that emit unpleasant odors. Blooms may negatively impact fish and other aquatic animals.

Some environmental factors that contribute to blue-green algae blooms are sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions and a plentiful supply of nutrients. Blooms can appear year-round but are more frequent in summer and fall. Many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins. Algal blooms can result in high toxin concentrations.

Unfortunately, you cannot tell if bluegreen algae are producing toxins just by looking at a bloom. Blue-green algae blooms can impact your health. Direct contact or breathing airborne droplets (such as those created by pond/lake fountains or irrigation/sprinklers) containing high levels of algal toxins can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting. There is not sufficient information available yet on potential long-term health impacts from exposure, but we are actively supporting research to find some of these answers.

Children, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised may be at risk even at low concentrations and should avoid any exposure.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:
• Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there are toxic algae blooms.
• Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
• Keep pets away from the area. Waters where there are algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different source of water when algae blooms are present.
• Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
• Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish well.
• Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

Find current information about Florida’s water quality status and public health notifications for harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting

Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide water quality information through environmental transparency and a commitment to action.

Report fish kills to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, call 1-800-636-0511.

Report symptoms from exposure to a harmful algal bloom or any aquatic toxin to the Florida Poison Information Center, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak to a poison specialist immediately.

Contact your veterinarian if you believe your pet has become ill after consuming or having contact with blue-green algae contaminated water.

If you have other health questions or concerns about blue-green algae blooms, please call the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County Communications Office at 561-671-4014 or go online to

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