FORT PIERCE, Fla. (CBS12) — You've seen it at the beach, you've smelled it and now oceanographic researchers say you should avoid it.
Rotten seaweed, found along most beaches in South Florida, may emit a chemical that one FAU Harbor Branch research professor says could be toxic.
The chemical is hydrogen sulfide, a colorless gas that is associated with the foul odor of rotten eggs. It can cause health problems and even death when excessive amounts are inhaled, consumed or comes into contact with skin.
This is shocking news for some beachgoers in South Florida.
"We decided to go as far away as we could from the seaweed as possible," said Laurie O'Rourke.
A trip to the beach is what O'Rourke has been waiting for all summer. But the sight and smell of rotten seaweed along the shoreline in Fort Pierce are "cringeworthy."
"It did remind me of like a little bit of a garage smell," O'Rourke said. "And it was a little overwhelming because it's piled up."
The sharper the smell of rotten eggs, the higher the levels of potential toxins, according to Brian LaPointe of FAU Harbor Branch. LaPointe said rotten seaweed is not toxic to the touch. He urges beach-goers to avoid the rotten brown grass because it may emit a gas that irritates the throat, eyes and nose.
"Every beach we ever been to there's always been some seaweed," O'Rourke said. "But we've never thought that it was dangerous."