Study links toxic algae bloom on Treasure Coast to fatal liver disease increase

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - An Ohio State University study found that people in areas with blue-green algae blooms are more likely to die from non-alcohol related liver disease.

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Dr. Edie Widder with the Ocean Research and Conversation Association (ORCA) said there are several ways how you can absorb the dangerous toxins. 

“It was crazy for people to be out water skiing (last year during the toxic algae crisis),” Widder said “That’s one of the best ways you can ever take up these toxins.”

Even if you’re not in the water you can still inhale the toxins and that’s not all. Widder said the toxins might have made it in your water and food supply.

“If you irrigate crops with toxin-containing water, the food can actually take up the toxins,” Widder said. 

ORCA is currently also testing fish from the river for toxins. 

Ever since the blue-green algae outbreak of 2016, Betty Swyryn, who has lived right by the water for 39 years with her husband said she has stopped eating the fish and they sold their boat. Now, she’s even too scared of having her grandchildren be anywhere near the water. 

“I couldn’t even let them play in the sand because I was afraid of the toxins,” Swyryn said. 

Swyryn loves her morning walks by the water and she was shocked when she learned the last blue-green algae bloom near her house was on May 18.

“I mean it looks so clear,” Swyryn said. “I thought it was over.”

But Widder said it isn’t over. 

“(The toxins) don’t show at the surface, they don’t show up as green slime,” Widder said. “But they do show up in our sensors.”

Jacob Fowler fishes on the Treasure Coast. He's just learning that because there's no visible blooms, the coast isn't really clear.

"I've had a lot of people who I've offered to eat my fish and they still won't do it. My coworkers especially, they won't even touch the fish I cook," said Fowler.

The co-author of the study recommends people limit how much fish they eat from water prone to blooms, cooking it won't kill the toxins. And breathing it is even worse. 

"The truth is, it's a little terrifying. We're sitting out here having a beautiful dinner on a magnificent Florida evening," said Susan Wornick of Stuart while she dined at a waterfront restaurant. 
Widder said not to panic yet since the study did not find a casual relationship, meaning while they found that people in areas with toxic algae blooms have higher risk of liver disease, they could not proof that the toxic algae is to blame. 

“But I do think that it is something that we need to pay more attention to,” Widder said. 

ORCA is currently measuring the toxin levels in different canals of the river with Kilroys, which are special sensors. Widder said she is worried because funding was just cut, forcing them to reduce the number of Kilroys. 

“The only way to protect water is to monitor it,” Widder said.

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