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CDC To Study Health Effects Of Cyanotoxin Exposure From Blue-Green Algae

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
The Florida Department of Health in Lee County posted an algae alert warning sign during a cyanobacteria bloom in 2019.

In this interview, health experts discuss the “Cyanotoxins in Air Study” that will look at how the cyanotoxins affect people who live or work near the blooms.

In 2018, Southwest Florida suffered through two massive harmful algal blooms: the red tide bloom that persisted off the Gulf coast and the blue-green algae bloom that started in Lake Okeechobee and choked the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary.

While research has been conducted on how far cyanotoxins produced by the blue-green algae can travel through the air, health officials don’t have a clear understanding of possible health effects from breathing them.

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is embarking on a new study during the 2021 algal bloom season — roughly now through September — to assess the health effects of exposure to cyanotoxins, in part to help officials better inform the public.

Related: Study To Determine Which Source Of Nutrient Pollution Most Feeds Red Tide In Tampa Bay

The “Cyanotoxins in Air Study” (CAST) will look at exposures to cyanotoxins produced by blue-green algae among people who live or work near Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, Cape Coral’s canals and the St. Lucie River.

In this interview, Dr. Lorrie Backer, epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, talks to WGCU about how the study will be conducted and how people can participate if they live the areas being assessed.

Dr. Mike Parsons, professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University, also discusses the study. He will be working to collect data using sampling techniques he and his team have developed over the past few years.

To inquire about participating in the study, call (561) 297-4631 or email

Mike Kiniry is producer of Gulf Coast Live, and co-creator and host of the WGCU podcast Three Song Stories: Biography Through Music. He first joined the WGCU team in the summer of 2003 as an intern while studying Communication at Florida Gulf Coast University.