Don Buhr, a resident of Blue Cypress Village on Blue Cypress Lake in northwest Indian River County, talks Thursday, May 31, 2018, about his concern over the pollution from runoff from a nearby ranch that spreads human sewage sludge as fertilizer on its fields.
A blue-green algae bloom in Blue Cypress Lake in western Indian River County is highly toxic, according to the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in Fort Pierce.
A sample from the bloom tested Wednesday contained the toxin microcystin at a level of 4,700 parts per billion, ORCA founder and lead scientist Edie Widder said Thursday.
The World Health Organization considers microcystin levels higher than 2,000 parts per billion to be “very highly hazardous” in recreational contact.
Microcystin can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested and rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled. Drinking water with the toxins can cause long-term liver disease.
Blue Cypress Lake visitors and nearby residents should make sure their pets don’t drink lake water, Widder said.
‘Huge clumps of algae’
Barbara and Don Buhr, who live at Blue Cypress Lake, took the algae sample Sunday and brought it to ORCA Monday.
“It’s out in the middle of the lake, just north of the dead center,” Don Buhr said Thursday. “There are huge clumps of algae everywhere, everywhere.”
Buhr, who’s lived at the lake 25 years and run Blue Cypress Tours for six years, said he’s “never seen a bloom like this. It’s big, and as the water gets warmer, it’s going to get bigger. It’s not going anywhere.”
Widder concurred: “I would expect the bloom will continue to grow in size and toxicity if it continues to have nutrients supplied to it.”
GreenWater Laboratories in Palatka confirmed the sample contained a type of blue-green algae called microcystis that can contain toxins.
ORCA scientist Beth Falls ran tests Wednesday and Thursday showing the extremely high levels of the microcystin toxin.
“You need a large source of nutrients, particularly phosphorus, to get a bloom like that,” Widder said. “The obvious conclusion is that the nutrients are probably coming from the distribution of biosolids nearby.”
Pressley Ranch, which lies southwest of the lake, has been spreading partially treated sewage sludge, known as Class B biosolids, on 3,059 acres of pasture since 2013.
TCPalm investigation: Is Blue Cypress Lake phosphorus pollution from biosolids?
In 2017 alone, over 5,277 dry tons of biosolids were put on the land, according to Florida Department of Environmental Protection records.
That’s about 1.7 tons per acre — the weight of 10 Boeing 747 jumbo jets.
A DEP report shows the biosolids the ranch dumped in 2017 contained over nearly 293,359 pounds of phosphorus.
A Feb. 16 DEP inspection found the ranch in compliance with state regulations, including no biosolids runoff, and the state permit was extended 10 years.
At the time of the inspection, though, no biosolids had been applied in eight months.
Trucks were seen spreading biosolids on the ranch’s fields in late April and early May.
Data from the DEP and the St. Johns River Water Management District show the lake’s phosphorus levels are increasing, but the agencies say there’s no proof of a direct link to biosolids application.
Gary Pressley, listed as the ranch owner on DEP permits, did not return a message left on his phone Thursday. Pressley declined to comment for a previous story about biosolids.
The bloom was reported to DEP late Wednesday, agency spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said Thursday afternoon.
“Monitoring staff will be deployed to sample the site as quickly as possible,” Miller said. Results will be posted on DEP’s algae bloom website.
“At this time, there is not enough data to establish a direct connection to nutrient levels in the lake to the land application of biosolids, nor to quantify the contribution of the land application,” Miller said.
A study by Ohio State University found people living in areas with significant blue-green algae blooms containing microcystin are more likely to die from nonalcoholic liver disease than those who don’t.
The study did not go so far as to confirm that blooms cause liver disease, especially not in particular individuals.
A growing number of scientists think another toxin in the algae, known as BMAA, can trigger neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The algae “produces thousands of compounds, and we have no idea what their health effects are,” Larry Brand, a marine biologist at the University of Miami, told TCPalm during the massive blue-green algae bloom in the St. Lucie River in summer 2016.
Report algae sightings
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection at 855-305-3903 or floridadep.gov/dear/algal-bloom
- Tyler Treadway, TCPalm.com at 772-221-4219 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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