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Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) and Brain Health

Research currently explores the relationship between algal blooms and degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS. Algal blooms regularly occur on Marco, typically in the warmer summer months.

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, naturally occur in marine and fresh waters. Under certain conditions, cyanobacteria can proliferate, producing cyanobacterial blooms. These blooms are often referred to as harmful algal blooms (HABs). Some blooms may produce algal toxins or cyanotoxins, which can pose health risks to humans and animals through exposure to drinking water, recreational water, or other surface waters.

In a recent presentation to the Big Cypress Basin (BCB) Board of Directors, several main categories of cyanotoxins found in freshwater bodies were discussed:

  • Hepatotoxins: Disrupt proteins that keep the liver functioning; may act slowly (days/weeks)

  • Neurotoxins: Cause rapid paralysis of skeletal and respiratory muscles (minutes)

  • Dermatotoxins: Produce rashes and other skin reactions, usually within a day (hours)

  • b-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BNMA): Excitotoxin killing neurons; Potentially linked to ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

The theory of the mechanism of transfer is that toxins from the blooms are introduced into the air from wind and wave action. Upon breathing the contaminated air into the sinus passages, the toxins pass through the “blood-brain” barrier and into the brain.

The BCB presentation reported that nitrate stimulates the production of microcystin while phosphorus stimulates the production of cylindrospermopsin. Significant amounts of nutrients in the form of nitrogen (88% nitrate) and phosphorus are distributed into waterways daily from the sewage reuse water (purple pipes) from the Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP). They are used for irrigation throughout Collier County.

An excellent video on YouTube TV is called “Toxic Puzzle: Hunt for the Hidden Killer.” Consider wearing your covid mask if you see algal blooms in the Marco canals and waterways.


Nanette Rivera

Candidate for Marco Island City Council

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