ACLU: State failed to warn public of health dangers of toxic algae bloom

The American Civil Liberties of Florida is taking aim at the state, saying it failed to adequately warn the public of the health dangers related to toxic algae blooms on the Treasure Coast communities last year.

The ACLU on Wednesday issued the report, “Tainted Waters: Threats to Public Health and the People’s Right to Know,” concluding blue-green algae have not been sufficiently researched by the state.

The Palm Beach Post last year published a story on a group of prominent researchers have tied blue-green algae to neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and ALS. To read that story click here.

Algae formed around the Herbert Hoover Dam on Lake Okeechobee on Friday, July 8, 2016. The algae bloom from Lake Okeechobee has grown since it was first measured in May. Environmentalists believe it stretched more than 200 square miles. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

The ACLU report was written by former Palm Beach Post investigative reporter John Lantigua.

“Open government means people have a right to be informed about what public officials and employees are doing, and that information is particularly crucial when it comes to public health issues,” Lantigua said. “What we found was a lack of urgency and transparency on the part of the state in reporting information about the crisis, caused by the release of tainted waters from Lake Okeechobee.”

The algae bloom in the St. Lucie River and its estuary certainly appeared and smelled toxic. It caused an overpowering, noxious smell, burning eyes, headaches, flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and rashes. The local hospital weathered a spike in emergency room patients. People were forced to evacuate waterside properties and escape to more distant lodgings.

It caused an overpowering, noxious smell, burning eyes, headaches, flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and rashes. The local hospital weathered a spike in emergency room patients. People were forced to evacuate waterside properties and escape to more distant lodgings.

His report quotes scientists concerned that the state provided no public warning about the threat to downriver communities. The state tested waters where toxins where the algae were least concentrated, as well, the report states.

It also notes a task force created by state law in 1999 to monitor and mitigate the effects of algae blooms has not been funded since 1999.

The ACLU’s full report is available here: www.aclufl.org/taintedwaters