PAHOKEE – The cleanup of the massive algal bloom at the Pahokee marina continued this week.
By Wednesday afternoon, most of the algal bloom had been removed. Sean Cooley, of the South Florida Water Management District, said the cleanup is a three phase project.
For the first phase, on April 26, SFWMD contractors were on site breaking up the larger algal blooms – some as much as a foot thick – with shovels and vacuuming them into a truck similar to those used to empty septic tanks. The liquid waste was sent to a West Palm Beach wastewater treatment plant. The solids were applied to vacant SFWMD lands.
In the second phase, April 27-May 4, under a state contract to clean up blue-green algal bloom, Gator Dredging cleaned up the blue and green muck floating on the water’s surface.
Gator Dredging captured the “chunky algae” from the basin. They also sucked up the surface water and ran it through a chemical process to remove the algae from the water, and then used ozone to kill any microcystin toxins. The cleaned water was returned to the lake. The algae waste was trucked to a disposal site. Working with Gator Dredging was Breen Aquatics Weedo. Weedo machinery is designed not only to suck up blue-green algae, but also remove some of nutrient load from the water.
The final phase will involve using a chemical treatment to kill the algae, explained Cooley.
Cooley said the design of the marina contributes to the algal bloom problems there. The is only one entrance to the marina from the lake. There is little water movement within the marina basin.
He said the bright blue color of some of the thicker parts of the algal bloom meant those algal mats were dead. He said when blue-green algae dies, it releases a pigment that turns it bright blue.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) sampled algae bloom on April 26. The sample 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 April 28, Pahokee Interim City Manager Jongelene Adams sent notices to all tenants at the marina, asking them to vacate the marina no later than April 30. The marina will be closed to the public until further notice.
An April 30 report from the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management showed high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water at the marina.
Low (100 colony forming units or cfu) and medium (200 cfu) levels of E Coli bacteria were also found.
Signs have been posted warning the public to stay away.
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. Some types of blue-green algae can produce toxins.
Unfortunately, you cannot tell if blue-green 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.