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Response and Analyses


Cyanobacteria Bloom Response

In 1998, a Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force was created to address potential concerns regarding microalgae, including blue-green algae, through monitoring and investigation. DEP, the five water management districts (WMDs), the Florida Department of Health (DOH), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) all work together to respond to algal blooms, each with a specific role. This “bloom response team” coordinates activities based upon the nature of the bloom event.

Cyanobacteria Module

The cyanobacteria bloom response team members have access to the Department of Health’s cyanobacteria tracking web tool, called Caspio. Each time a new cyanobacteria bloom event is added or updated in the Cyanobacteria Module, an email is sent to all of the cyanobacteria bloom response team members notifying them of a new entry. The team members then coordinate their response activities based upon the nature of the bloom event.

How Laboratory Analyses Inform Management Actions

When a bloom is reported, staff from one of the potential responding agencies will typically perform a site visit. During the site visit, agency staff attempt to determine the extent and severity of the bloom. Often, samples of the bloom-affected water are collected for laboratory analysis to determine what species of algae or cyanobacteria are blooming and, if necessary, to determine if toxins are present in the water. There are many species of algae and cyanobacteria that can form blooms and only a few of those species are known to produce toxins. Knowing whether the bloom is a potential toxin-producing species or not can help the agencies to prioritize their response activities. Because the factors that cause a bloom to produce toxins are not well understood at this time, it makes it difficult to use the results of toxin analyses in making bloom response management decisions. However, knowing that a bloom is producing toxins lets the responding agencies and the public know that they are dealing with a known hazard rather than a potential hazard.

Neither the State of Florida, nor the federal government, currently has water quality criteria for cyanotoxins. DOH takes the lead in determining if a harmful algal bloom presents a risk to human health. DOH issues health advisories as they determine to be appropriate when toxicity levels are higher and may also post warning signs when blooms affect public beaches or other areas where there is the risk of human exposure. These actions are typically directed out of local county health departments, most often in consultation with staff from DOH’s Aquatic Toxins Program.

The World Health Organization considers levels under 10 micrograms/liter to represent a low-level risk for adverse health outcomes from short-term recreational exposures; however, certain sensitive populations (e.g. children, the elderly and immunocompromised populations) may still be at risk even at low concentrations and should avoid any exposure.

For more information on Sampling Procedures, please visit the Sampling page.

Last updated: July 14, 2016

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