SWFL air quality: Is it safe & who’s monitoring it?

Empty beaches and parking lots: just one of the impacts red tide and algae are having on our coast.

Another, the struggle to breathe. It raises the question: is the air safe and who’s monitoring it?

Shirley Tebussek and her family just want to enjoy a relaxing day on Fort Myers Beach.

“As soon as I opened the door, I started to cough,” Tebussek said.

Tebussek blames that cough on the red tide toxins in the air here.

“I can’t take a deep, deep breath,” Tebussek said. “It’s alarming.”

And the weather plays a big role too. When the wind is blowing offshore toward the Gulf, you don’t get the toxins in the air. As soon as it switches directions and blows on onshore, that’s when people start coughing.

“Being on the beach is not a pleasant place to be right now,” said Dr. Paul Kuehner.

WINK News reached out to several agencies to see if the air quality was being tested in Southwest Florida for red tide:

  • The Department of Environmental Protection: no.
  • Florida, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: no.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: no.

The non-profit research facility Mote Marine Laboratory provided a statement:

If we have those toxin concentrations, we can make assumptions on occurrence of respiratory irritation when concentrations are paired with wind and currents.

If the red tide is high in the water, you can assume it’s going to be in the air and affect your breathing.

“It’s not a minor problem and it’s not going to go away,” Dr. Kuehner said.

Regarding to the air tests, Tebussek stressed their importance.

“If it’s not being done, it should be,” Tebussek said.

Tebussek added she doesn’t like being the only one on the beach.

“This is a tourist area. We’ve never parked this close to the beach,” Tebussek said. “It’s empty.”

What’s the Department of Health have to say about this?

The Department of Health told WINK News they do not do air testing either and that red tide toxins can travel as far as two miles inland. They depend on lifeguards along the coast to report issues, which they can pass on to the department.

WINK News reporter Kelsey Kushner was live on the Sanibel Causeway as concerned residents and officials feel the effects of the water quality here in Southwest Florida. Watch the full segment below:

Reporter:Channing Frampton