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Research reveals how red tide, blue-green algal blooms could affect your health

The sights and smells of the 2018 red tide and blue-green algae are hard to forget. Two years later, we’re getting more answers as to the risks connected to those blooms.

New research provides some of the best information yet about how these harmful algal blooms could impact our health.

It’s all hands on deck to tackle Southwest Florida’s water crisis, and that includes James Metcalf, Ph.D., with Brain Chemistry Labs in Wyoming.

“The samples we collected in 2018 were analyzed and, yeah, it’s just unfortunate the way science works, you end up with a backlog of data,” Metcalf said.

The data show it’s possible for multiple blooms like red tide and blue-green algae to coincide, as well as the potential risks for human and animal health.

Environmental groups in Southwest Florida helped with that research.

“Well, the microcystin is mostly implicating a liver disease or a liver cancer, whereas the neurotoxins from red tide and the other type of algae, lyngbya, are considered neurotoxins,” said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

Those neurotoxins, like BMAA, can be linked to diseases like ALS and Alzheimer’s.

“Maybe the outcome of this is we should err on the side of caution because we know these are toxins. They do bioaccumulate in the food chain and that’s really an important aspect,” Cassani said.

While there are some unknowns left to solve, “When the system, the ecological system is out of balance, you get harmful algae blooms and we need to do a better job of limiting those harmful algae blooms by studying them,” said Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D., marine lab director with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Metcalf said one of the big questions remaining is how much of the toxin you would have to be exposed to for a long-term health effect. Drugs for these types of brain diseases are in development, even in clinical trials.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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