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Toxic Blue-Green Algae Stops Lake Okeechobee Releases

Kenny Hinkle Jr.


UPDATE: Lake Okeechobee releases to the St. Lucie River are suspended until Monday due to blue-green algae.  

The algae contains low levels of a toxin called microcystin.

Blue-green algae currently covers 40 to 50 acres of Lake Okeechobee. And in the St. Lucie Canal that connects the lake to the St. Lucie River, the algae expands 15 to 20 acres.

Mark Perry with the Florida Oceanographic Society is collecting algae data from the lake. He said it could get more dangerous.

"It's a very, very dense bright green color, and it's very distinctive. But it will go through morphology to where it may get more toxic as time goes on," said Perry. 

He said he’s worried about the toxin microcystin he found in the algae.

"If you ingest it or if you even inhale, you can get very nauseous and sick much like flu-like symptoms," he said.

Perry said in extreme cases, the toxin could enter the bloodstream and cause neurological damage-- it’s particularly harmful to the liver.  

The toxicity level is around four micrograms per liter right now. And according to the World Health Organization, 10 micrograms is considered highly toxic.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has suspended lake releases this week. But Mark Perry said the Port Mayaca Lock that opens to let boats pass from the lake to the canal and vice versa still opens 10 or 12 times a day, which allows the algae to pass through.

The Corps of Engineers said they plan to resume flows to St. Lucie River on Monday.

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.