Mote Marine Lab begins testing for airborne red tide toxins

We are one step closer to getting answers about the air quality amid blue-green algae and red tide.

You’ve probably felt the tickle in your throat or experienced the coughing on our beaches, but many people want to know if there is any danger or long-term health effects from being near the algal blooms.

Mote Marine Lab started testing for airborne toxins in Sarasota County Monday but are expected to move testing to Lee County in the next couple of weeks.

MORE: Cape Coral passes motion to request air quality testing for toxins

Mote will have to press pause on their testing to keep their equipment safe in anticipation of Hurricane Michael.

Scientists will test as far as seven miles inland to see if brevotoxins are present.

“The stronger the wind the more it’s going to go inland,” said Dr. Richard Pierce, Senior Scientist at MOTE. “The stronger the red tide in the coastal area, the more toxin you’re going to have blowing it.”

Funded by the Florida Department of Health, MOTE Marine Lab has 12 sampling machines that work like a vacuum.

“It’s just pulling air through the filter and the particles that contain the red tide toxin would be collected on the filter, so we very carefully fold that filter over, put it into some organic solvent which immediately start extracting the toxins,” said Pierce. “We take it up to the lab and start processing it.”

Dr. Pierce says previous testing shows red tide toxins are in the air nearly three miles inland.

He and technicians like Marguerite Kinsella are still working to determine what is safe and what’s not safe.

“Right now we can’t say specifically what we’re going to see,” Kinsella said. “We just have to test it. There might be more than we anticipated or there might be less.”

To compare those results, MOTE is sampling both indoor and outdoor locations.

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