A massive bloom of noxious, inch-thick algae has hit four southern Florida counties, closing beaches and causing serious health and environmental issues.
“I would describe them as guacamole-thick. And it stinks,” Gabriella Ferrero, spokeswoman for Martin County told the Miami Herald.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach and Lee counties last week. For many area residents, the gesture seemed like too little too late, reports the newspaper.
In some neighborhoods, the bubbling ooze of blue-green algae emits a stench so overwhelming that residents can’t even go outside.
“Normally there are kids outside playing,” Marisa Baskin of Stuart, Florida told the New York Times. “But not right now – it’s a ghost town.”
The Florida Department of Health said that at toxic levels, this type of algae “can affect the gastrointestinal tract, liver, nervous system, and skin.” The department advised people to avoid contact with all algal blooms, as even breathing in water spray can cause these symptoms. “Children and pets are especially vulnerable,” the department added.
Recent research suggests that another toxin in clue-green algae can trigger neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to USA Today.
The invasion of the toxic bloom is caused by discharge from the highly polluted Lake Okeechobee. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville, Florida, dumped water from the lake to protect nearby towns from flooding.
That discharged water carried pollutants from fertilizer nutrients into rivers and lagoons, which eventually dumped into the ocean. When too much pollutants his bodies of salt water, the blend creates giant plumes of toxic algae that make the water toxic to humans, animals and plants, reports The Times
Area residents have shared photos of the waters’ helpless marine animals swimming through the sludge. There has already been one reported manatee death, according to WPTV
The Corps responded to the Governor Scott’s declaration of a state of emergency by announcing that it would begin to reduce the flow from the polluted lake over Fourth of July weekend.
“It has been a challenging year for South Florida,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander in a statement, according to The Herald. “Our water managers have dealt with such large quantities of rain and runoff entering the lake that it would cover the entire state of Delaware in two feet of water.”
“However, after visiting with local elected officials in Martin County yesterday and viewing the algae first hand, we felt compelled to take action,” the statement continued.
Officials told ABC News they are investigating if the toxic waters are causing infections among area residents, many of whom, are reporting headaches, respiratory issues and rashes.
Chris Palas, a mother who lives in Stuart, Florida, said the bloom and its stench has been making her whole family feel ill.
“The headaches, the sinus pressure is extreme,” she said. “It is just an awful feeling. As a mom, I have a 5-year-old daughter and you just worry, how is this going to affect her longterm?”