MOORE HAVEN — With an abundance of caution, the Florida Department of Health in Glades has issued a Health Alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algal toxins in the Caloosahatchee River. This is in response to a water sample taken on May 22, 2023.
The health department advises public should exercise caution in and around the Ortona Lock and Dam area of the Caloosahatchee River.
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the sample had toxin levels of 1.8 micrograms per liter. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers toxin levels below 1.0 ppb to be safe for drinking water, and levels below 8.0 ppb safe for human recreational contact (swimming).
Another sample from the C-43 canal had trace levels -- 0.40 ppb -- microcystins detected.
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 is a visible bloom.
• 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.
Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that is common in Florida’s freshwater environments. 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.
Some environmental factors that contribute to blue-green algae blooms are sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions and excess nutrients. Blooms can appear year-round but are more frequent in summer and fall. Many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins.
Blue-green algae blooms can impact human health and ecosystems, including fish and other aquatic animals. Most blue-green algae does not produce toxins. About 25% of the species of blue-green algae present in the Lake Okeechobee Waterway are capable of producing toxins and those capable of producing toxins do not always do so. However, you cannot tell which species of algae are present without laboratory tests, and you cannot tell if toxins are present without tests. The public is encouraged to err on the side of caution anytime algae is visible.
For additional information on potential health effects of algal blooms, visit floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins.
Find current information about Florida’s water quality status and public health notifications for harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov. Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide statewide water quality information to prioritize environmental transparency and commitment to action.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection collects and analyzes algal bloom samples. To report a bloom to DEP, call the toll-free hotline at 855-305-3903 or report online.
To report fish kills, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at 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.