PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

CDC Begins Study to Assess Health Effects of Exposure to Cyanotoxins Produced by Blue-Green Algae

Calusa Waterkeeper
Florida Department of Health in Lee County algae alert warning sign during a cyanobacteria bloom in 2019.

Back in 2018 Southwest Florida suffered through two massive harmful algal blooms — the red tide bloom which persisted off the coast for a year and a half, and the blue-green algae bloom that started in Lake Okeechobee and wound up choking the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary. While research has been conducted on how far cyanotoxins produced by the blue-green algae can travel through the air, health officials don’t have a clear understanding of possible health effects from breathing them.

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is embarking on a new study during the 2021 algal bloom season — roughly now through September — to assess the health effects of exposure to cyanotoxins, in part to help health officials better inform the public. The “Cyanotoxins in Air Study” (CAST) will look at exposures to cyanotoxins produced by blue green algae among people who live or work near Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, Cape Coral’s Canals, and the St. Lucie River on the east coast.

We get the basics on how that study is going to be conducted, and how people can participate if they live in those geographic areas, with the study lead from the CDC, Dr. Lorrie Backer, epidemiologist in the Health Studies Section at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

Later in the show we talk with Dr. Mike Parsons, professor of Marine Science at Florida Gulf Coast University, and Director of FGCU’s Vester Field Station, who will be working to collect data using sampling techniques he and his team have developed over the past few years.

To inquire about participating in the Cyanotoxins in Air Study (CAST), please call 561-297-4631 or email cast@cdc.gov.