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Water quality campaign to kick off

By Staff | Jun 20, 2019

A Calusa Waterkeeper Public Health Campaign kicks off Monday with a documentary, dinner and panel discussion at Broadway Dinner Theatre to discuss why harmful algal blooms have become a public health concern.

Calusa Waterkeeper Executive Director KC Schulberg said they knew the HABs (Harmful Algal Blooms) Public Health Campaign was part of their plan as soon as their Big Calusa event concluded. He said in spite of themselves, they became experts on blue green algae, and red tide.

“We really made that a hot topic. We were crying about this for years before it blew up in our faces last year,” Schulberg said.

Last year, the Calusa Waterkeepers held two town halls regarding the economic damage done because of the blue green algae and red tide and legislation and regulation policy.

The campaign kicks off with “Public Health Alert – Florida Water” from 5:30-9 p.m., Monday, June 24, at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 1380 Colonial Blvd., in Fort Myers. The focus is on public health consequences of algae blooms.

“We are going to move strongly into this realm. People are really worried about what is going on with their bodies and with these toxins and how dangerous they are,” he said of the HABs Public Health Campaign.

As of Wednesday afternoon 200 tickets were already sold to Monday’s event.

“We have more room. We would love to have more people come,” he said.

Tickets are $20 a person and include a movie, dinner and world renowned panelists. They can be purchased atcalusawaterkeeper.networkforgood.com/events/13507-public-health-alert-swfl-water-summit.

Schulberg said they are also making tickets available, free of charge, to nursing students. Those students interested are asked to emailinfo@calusawaterkeeper.org.

“We really want the maximum number of people to partake in this and benefit from the knowledge that we share. We are not in it for the money. We want to share information and get the word out to inform the community,” he said. “People are sickened by the loss of marine life. People are really worried about their health and well-being. . . Am I making my children sick by living here. It’s a topic that has to be addressed.”

The event will feature a screening of “Toxic Puzzle,” a documentary narrated by Harrison Ford. Schulberg said the scary, entertaining documentary, which was beautifully made, was done a couple of years ago.

The film pieces the toxic puzzle together of cyanobacteria (blue green algae).

He said it’s almost undisputedly linked to Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s disease.

“This stuff is all around us,” Schulberg said.

After the film, a panel of experts will have an hour discussion about why harmful algal blooms are a public health concern, as well as a question-and-answer period.

The panelists will include Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani and two University of Miami scientists: Dr. Walter Bradley, chair emeritus of the university’s neurology department, and marine biology and ecology professor Dr. Larry Brand, both of whom were in “Toxic Puzzle.” The medical professionals will include Dr. Robert Zarranz, Otolaryngologists ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor) and Holley Rauen, Registered Nurse (and Calusa Waterkeeper Ranger).

“The health risks are becoming more apparent as new scientific research emerges,” Cassani said in a prepared statement. “We’re doing everything we can to get the word out and let everyone know what they can do to make a difference in this fight.”

Schulberg said a year ago it was said that there was really no risk of aerosolized transmission of the algal blooms. With that said, Schulberg said they saw evidence that it traveled through the air, which led them to push forward and start a conversation with doctors. With the help of a grant through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, they established a team of experts.

Schulberg said the very prestigious list of people were pulled together to gather information on what is going on in terms of aerosol transmission of the harmful algal blooms — how much is going through the air and how dangerous it is to humans.

“We know that it travels through the air and is dangerous to inhale. We don’t know the quantities that are traveling through the air and the threshold to make it dangerous to the system. There are a lot of variables,” he said.

The second part of the Public Health Campaign will include a second Town Hall gathering on Aug. 5 featuring a movie Calusa Waterkeepers is now producing, “Troubled Waters.” The movie premier will also include a larger panel.

The “World Premier,” Schulberg said includes “some really cutting edge information, which is topical to Southwest Florida and is very timely.”

The third leg of the campaign will be an outreach to the medical community through a mass snail mail and email blast. He said they want to bridge over to the medical healthcare community to show them what has been found by having a discussion with various disciplines, such as research scientists, nurses and doctors.

“This can really touch a whole array of medical professions. We are trying to get a dialogue going with them and share that information with both the public and medical community,” Schulberg said.

The fourth leg will be an in-service teaching lab to be held in October. The three-hour training lab will focus on the most recent relevant information, conducted in Lee Health hospitals. Those who participate will receive a continuing education credit for attending the seminar.

“We feel that we need to provide that service to the community that doesn’t know what’s going on,” he said.

The HABs Public Health Campaign began because of what Southwest Florida experienced last summer regarding the expansion of algal blooms.

“Those are the legs of this campaign, which was largely thanks to the resources given to us by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation,” he said. “We are trying to inform the community by talking to the general public and to the medical community healthcare providers. We want to offer them information if their patient is coming in by having some more information to deliver to their patients. This is cutting-edge research. They are working day and night to come up with the most expanse current information on this issue because it is really bad.”

The underlying causes of green blue algae and red tide, too many nutrients in the waterways, have already been discussed. Now it is time to deal with the public health end of the issue, he said. That information, includes what measures people can take to be safer and what they should and should not do when exposed to the algae.

“What can you actually do to safe guard your health,” Schulberg said.

Lee County, meanwhile, unanimously approved a state grant for a Nutrient & Bacteria Source Identification Study at its Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday in the amount of $89,964.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant, which is being used to fund the agreement with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Florida Atlantic University, will allow the continuation of data collection for another year through 10 surface and 10 ground water gauges that are looking at various constituents.

Commissioner Brian Hamman said they are being proactive in trying to identify what is going on and what is feeding the algae.

“This is studying an area in the Caloosahatchee River to see what is contributing to the nutrient pollution that is in the portion of the river,” he said of the Caloosahatchee-North Fort Myers study. “Last year results showed potentially septic tanks were playing a big role.”

County Manager Roger Desjarlais said accepting the dollars takes them one step closer to identify where the pollutants are coming from. He said they are putting together a program in the next couple of months to identify other low-lying areas of Lee County that have septic tanks.

“We are making progress and hopefully within the next year we will have some results,” Desjarlais said, adding that every county and city along the Caloosahatchee has a role to play in cleaning up the water.