Local scientists test community for traces of toxic algae

Algae. (WPEC)

Blue, green and toxic.

For weeks, people on the Treasure Coast have been dealing with the algae and many are concerned for their health.

Scientists from Harbour Branch Oceanographic Institute tested people in the community Thursday for microcystin toxins. Microcystin is the toxin found in blue green algae.

"An unknown. A harmful unknown," said Blaid Wickstrom, the publisher of Florida Sportsman. The magazine's office has been on the water in Stuart for 20 years, dealing with this algae.

They had to close temporarily this year because the smell was so bad. It's why they let the Harbour Branch scientists use their building to test people in the community.

"Given the opportunity, I jumped on it because if we're not testing potential harm... then it will just continue," Wickstrom said.

Everyone had to fill out a questionnaire so they can have a better understanding of where people were exposed. Then they can connect the human samples with environmental samples. Then each person had to give a blood sample, a nasal swab and a urine sample.

"Part of this is understanding what tissues can give us the best bio-marker for toxin exposure," said Adam Schaefer, an epidemiologist with Harbour Branch. He's been working there for 10 years and leading the study.

"It's really the most important end point in understanding health risk," he said.

Schaefer said, right now, there is just so much unknown about these toxins and how they move through people. He's hoping these samples will give them a better understanding.

Wickstrom hopes so too.

"If we don’t when we’re given the chance to find out how harmful these algal blooms are then we really are just rolling the dice," said Wickstrom.

Schaefer said the study will take a few months, at least. However, he said they want to do this right so it could take longer.

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