This article presents information about the history of the Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force and blue-green algae studies sponsored by FWC/FWRI.
The Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force (FHABTF) was established in the fall of 1997 to address the perceived increasing problems with harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Florida. Two HAB events in 1996 prompted the action: (1) a significant red tide caused by Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, which resulted in an unprecedented number of manatee mortalities; and (2) reports of the dinoflagellate Pfiesteria along the eastern seaboard of the United States (Steidinger et al. 1999, Steidinger 2002).
The Florida Legislature appropriated $1 million to fund research critical to HAB issues in Florida. The FHABTF, under the sponsorship of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), was instructed to review needs and recommend funding.
A Technical Advisory Group, appointed by the FHABTF chair, prepared a white paper called "Harmful Algal Blooms in Florida." The white paper identified data gaps, recommended actions, and was used by the FHABTF to assess funding priorities for HAB-related research (Steidinger et al. 1999). Red tide, Pfiesteria-like species, ciguatera, toxic blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria), tumor promoters, and macroalgae were identified as HAB focus topics.
The FHABTF identified cyanobacteria blooms in fresh and brackish water as an emerging HAB problem in Florida. Six research priorities for cyanobacteria were identified in the white paper:
- Determine the distribution of toxic and nontoxic strains,
- Develop epidemiological studies to determine public health risks,
- Develop economic impact studies to evaluate losses by location or industry,
- Determine the roles of nutrient enrichment and managed freshwater flow in blooms,
- Determine the fate and effects of toxins in the food web,and
- Investigate control and mitigation methods.
The Florida Legislature appropriated an additional $1 million to address the white paper recommendations. In the same legislative session, the FHABTF was formalized by Chapter 379.2271, Florida Statutes (F.S.) (formerly Chapter 370.06092) and was given four objectives to achieve:
Review the status and adequacy of information for monitoring physical, chemical, biological, economic, and public health factors affecting HABs in Florida; Develop research and monitoring priorities for HABs in Florida,including detection, prediction, mitigation, and control; Develop recommendations that can be implemented by state and local governments to develop a response plan and to predict, mitigate, and control the effects of HABs; and Make recommendations to FWRI for research, detection, monitoring, prediction, mitigation, and control of HABs in Florida.
Lake Harris, Florida
Photo Credit: FWC
The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) was awarded $100,000 to assess cyanobacteria toxins (cyanotoxins) in Florida's lakes, reservoirs, and rivers (Williams et al. 2001).
The SJRWMD was awarded $196,000 to continue the original cyanobacteria survey, include sampling at water treatment plants to investigate if cyanotoxins were present in the raw and finished waters, and fund a small pilot epidemiology study. The results of the treatment plant investigation were documented by Williams et al. (April 11, 2006) in a draft report entitled "Assessment of Cyanotoxins in Florida's Surface Waters and Associated Drinking Water Resources." The epidemiology study, conducted by the University of Miami and collaborators, investigated possible links between exposure to cyanobacteria, cyanotoxins in drinking water, and the incidence of liver cancer in Florida (Fleming et al. 2000, 2002).
Projects funded for cyanobacteria research, monitoring, and investigation and for a cyanobacteria workshop met the FHABTF goal of addressing the data gaps identified in the white paper. The results of these projects also led to the appropriation of additional funding from other sources for research to:
- Promote chemical or cell assays to replace mouse bioassays;
- Investigate the effects of red tide aerosol on humans;
- Investigate the possibility of finding cyanotoxins in drinking water;
- Promote automated methods to detection and quantify cyanotoxins in natural waters, aquaculture, and water treatment plants;
- Promote state monitoring programs; and
- Promote new HAB studies not considered in the previously funded projects.
In addition, two workshops were recommended to address: (1) treatment methods for blooms and cyanotoxins in drinking water, and (2) public health and cyanobacteria (Steidinger 2002).
The first workshop was hosted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The meeting was motivated by continued research and information exchange on cyanobacteria issues in Florida and focused on treatment methods for cyanobacteria. In 2002, the Florida Department of Health (DOH), in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sponsored a second workshop ("Health Effects of Exposure to Cyanotoxins: State of the Science"). Papers from the health workshop summarized much of the research done through the FHABTF as well as other ongoing studies in the state (Burns et al. 2002, Johnson and Harbison 2002, Steidinger 2002). A meeting hosted by FWC and DOH in September 2005 at FWRI in St. Petersburg, Florida, expanded on this workshop and addressed, in part, current public health issues associated with cyanobacteria in Florida.
Several contractors were awarded $387,000 to:
Continue the cyanobacteria survey and epidemiology studies-Cyanotoxins were detected in Florida's surface water drinking supplies; and microcystins, cylindrospermopsins, and anatoxins were detected in post-treatment finished water samples (Burns et al. 2002; Williams et al. 2001, 2006; Fleming et al. 2000, 2002).
Work on toxin standards for cylindrospermopsin, a newly recognized toxin in Florida.
Hold a workshop to focus on a probe or biosensor approach to detect and monitor toxins (Fries et al. 2001)-Chemical and microelectronic detection kits adapted to autonomous sensors were evaluated for use in treatment plants or for cyanobacteria monitoring. A team of experts sponsored a workshop in 2001 to review existing and future applications. Invited participants included surface water treatment plant operators, DEP water facilities personnel, and other professionals knowledgeable in developing instruments for species and toxins detection. Review a summary of the workshop.
Develop educational materials for the public and medical profession regarding exposures and health effects from cyanobacteria (Fleming et al. 2002, 2002)-The University of Miami, in collaboration with DOH, developed educational materials, pamphlets (e.g., "Are you Being Slimed"), informational brochures, and peer-reviewed publications on the risks of cyanobacteria to the Florida public. Fleming and Stephan (2001) also provided a review of cyanobacteria, their toxins, and public health issues to the FHABTF.
By 2003, three tasks set by Chapter 379.2271, F.S. were completed. A fourth task ("Develop recommendations that can be implemented by state and local governments to develop a response plan and to predict, mitigate, and control the effects of harmful algal blooms") is currently being addressed through separate initiatives.
In 2003, FWRI created the FHABTF Public Health Technical Panel, whose membership includes public health, environmental, natural resource, agriculture, and research professionals from state agencies, universities, and private laboratories. In the same year, FWRI received additional funding from DOH (made available by CDC Grant U50-CCU423360-01) to assist in the development of recommendations for an integrated public health environmental monitoring response plan. The collaborative effort between FWRI and DOH addresses public health response to four major HAB types (red tides, ciguatera, saxitoxins, and cyanobacteria). The FHABTF Public Health Technical Panel recommended information that should be included in a user-friendly guide to address county public health response to HABs. The resulting document is an FWRI Technical Report, "Resource Guide for Public Health Response to Harmful Algal Blooms in Florida" (Abbott et al. 2008, in press).
A portion of the fourth task ("to predict, mitigate, and control the effects of harmful algal blooms") is being addressed by the Red Tide Control and Mitigation Program administered by FWRI.
Cyanobacteria data from the FHABTF initiatives highlighted a diversity of public health, natural resources, and environmental issues that continue to confront Florida today. Florida state agencies need to develop an integrated approach to document and quantify cyanobacteria problems; determine how to minimize, predict, manage, and control the blooms; continue to assess the public health and natural resources risks from cyanotoxins in drinking water reservoirs and other aquatic habitats; and provide consensus in communication, feedback, and educational resources to the public and media. Further input and direction from state agencies, water management districts, private and nonprofit laboratories, academia, and the public is required to address these issues.
Because of continued HAB problems in the state of Florida, the Director of FWRI wishes to reconvene the FHABTF to review the current status and emerging issues associated with HABs in Florida, specifically address cyanobacteria blooms, and advise on priority needs for research and monitoring.
Abbott, G.M., Landsberg, J.H., Reich, A.R., Steidinger, K.A., Ketchen, S., and Blackmore, C. (2008). Resource guide for public health response to harmful algal blooms in Florida. FWRI Technical Report. In press. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, St. Petersburg.
Burns, J., Williams, C., and Chapman, A. 2002. Cyanobacteria and their toxins in Florida's surface waters. In Johnson, D. and Harbison, R.D. (2002). Proceedings of health effects of exposure to cyanobacteria toxins: state of the science, August 13-14, 2002, Sarasota, Florida, pp. 16-21.
Fleming, L.E., Rivero, C., Burns, J., Williams, C., Shea, K., and Stinn, J. 2000. Blue green algal toxins, drinking water, and primary liver cancer in Florida. Final report to the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force. 28 pp.
Fleming, L.E., Rivero, C., Burns, J., Williams, C., Bean, J.A., Shea, K.A., and Stinn, J. 2002. Blue green algal (cyanobacterial) toxins, surface drinking water, and liver cancer in Florida. Harmful Algae 1:157-168.
Fleming, L.E. and Stephan, W. 2001. Report to the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force. Blue green algae, their toxins and public health issues. NIEHS Biomedical Center, University of Miami, 17 pp.
Fries, D., Carmichael, W., Scholin, C., and Doucette, G. 2001. Cyanotoxin detection and quantification and instrumentation workshop.
Johnson, D., and Harbison, R.D. 2002. Proceedings of health effects of exposure to cyanobacteria toxins: state of the science, August 13-14, 2002, Sarasota, Florida. 101 pp.
Steidinger, K.A. 2002. Florida's harmful algal bloom task force: history and focus. In: Johnson, D. and Harbison, R.D. (2002). Proceedings of health effects of exposure to cyanobacteria toxins: state of the science, August 13-14, 2002, Sarasota, Florida, pp. 6-15.
Steidinger, K.A., Landsberg, J.H., Tomas, C.R., and Burns, J.W. 1999. Harmful algal blooms in Florida, Unpublished technical report submitted to the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, Florida Marine Research Institute, 63 pp.
Williams, C.D., Burns, J., Chapman, A., Flewelling, L., Pawlowicz, M., and Carmichael, W. 2001. Assessment of cyanotoxins in Florida's lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. Final report. St. Johns River Water Management District, Palatka, Florida, 97 pp.
Williams, C.D., Burns, J., Chapman, A., Pawlowicz, M., and Carmichael, W. 2006. Assessment of cyanotoxins in Florida's surface waters and associated drinking water resources.Draft report. St. Johns River Water Management District, Palatka, Florida, 89 pp.
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