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Five W's And An H About Harmful Algae Blooms

September 25, 2016

harmful blue algae


Question: What are Harmful Algae Blooms?

Answer: The term “Harmful Algae Bloom” (HAB) refers to the infamous blue-green algae that have recently spread throughout various waterways all across the southern region of Florida.  It is a man-made cyanobacterium that is fertilized and catalyzed by the nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients in the run-off that had been polluted by human waste and fertilizers from surrounding farms and neighborhoods.


Question: Who is at risk from HABs?

Answer:  Humans, pets, and aquatic wildlife are all at risk when exposed to the toxic blue-algae. 

HABs present a health risk to humans who live in areas nearby.  If they ingest the water that has been affected by the algae then they could experience nausea, vomiting, and liver failure.  If someone comes in contact with the harmful algae they could develop a rash.  If the algae fumes are inhaled then there is a risk of long-term neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.  However, to this day there are no documented cases, so these health risks are all just probabilities based on scientific research.

Pets face the same health risks as humans if they ingest, come in contact with, or inhale fumes from the harmful blue-green algae; the only difference being that our pets are especially vulnerable to the algae.  Do your best to keep them away from the algae to ensure their safety and call your veterinarian if your pet has been exposed.

Marine life faces the greatest risk because the HABs that spread on the surface of the water are extremely detrimental to their environment; the thick layer of algae acts as a barrier that blocks their sunlight and depletes their oxygen.  The HABs are killing off most of the marine life below by depriving them of the resources they need to survive,


Question: When do the Harmful Algae Blooms spread? 

Answer: Algal blooms increase in size and quantity when the temperatures rise.  In Florida, the toxic algae is more likely to bloom and spread during the summer when there are warmer temperatures.


Question: Where did the toxic blue-green algae blooms originate? 

Answer: The blooms of harmful blue-green algae originated in Lake Okeechobee and they spread when excessive amounts of polluted water from the lake was released into the connecting rivers and estuaries.

Question: Where did the HABs spread?

Answer: The HABs aggressively spread primarily throughout the Stuart area and along the Treasure Coast, and they have appeared as far south as Fort Lauderdale and Miami.  Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, and Lee counties but was denied in July.


Question: Why do the Harmful Algae Blooms exist in the first place?

Answer: The infamous blue-green algae that is currently plaguing the eastern coast of South Florida was created accidentally…Oops! The development of HABs was an indirect and unforeseen consequence of a poor decision made years ago that involved a somewhat successful attempt to jumpstart the economy.  Back then government officials and land developers tried to spur the economy by redirecting water from central Florida to southern Florida.  In order to redirect the water they had to break up the natural flow of the rivers, and that unnatural flow of water resulted with the rivers and lagoons becoming toxic with HABs. 

Question: Why is this year different?

Answer: HABs are not a new phenomenon, but in previous years the spreading of algal blooms was more manageable, so what is so special about 2016? Due to record amounts of rainfall in January of 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released large amounts of polluted water into the rivers and estuaries in an attempt to prevent Lake Okeechobee from overflowing, so the HABs were able to spread much farther and much faster than ever before.  As a result, during the summer of 2016 the HABs were so widespread and so substantial that they became labeled as an environmental crisis.


Question: How does the government plan to take care of this problem?

 Answer: Florida’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently has only one potential solution to alleviate the algae blooms and it involves reducing nutrients in the run-off.   The theory is based on the fact that the nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients are fertilizing and catalyzes the algae blooms, basically feeding them so they grow stronger.  The objective is decrease the intensity and duration of the HABs so that they will become easier to manage, and the most logical way to accomplish that is to cut off their food supply by decreasing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients in the run-off.

The EPA wants to find a way to permanently reduce the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in run-off so that the HABs would be more manageable in the future.  They laid out a plan for reducing nutrients in run-off over the long-term by having the homeowners in the surrounding areas gradually switch from using septic tanks to using sewer lines. 

Unfortunately, this long-term solution would costs hundreds of millions to be carried-out, and the state of Florida just doesn’t have the money.  Allocation is the only way to raise the necessary funds, but that won’t happen any time soon because of an on-going political debate about who should be responsible for allocating the money.  As of right If you have any questions about Harmful Algae Blooms or if you are interested in our pest control services, please leave a comment below or call one of our Nozzle Nolen representatives at (888) 685-0376.



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