*Report: 4 Florida counties make up part of fatal liver disease Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcluster*
*BY TYLER TREADWAY Treasure Coast Newspapers*
STUART | People living in areas with significant blue-green algae blooms, including the Treasure Coast, are more likely to die from nonalcoholic liver disease than those who dont.
Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties make up a striking Ã¢â‚¬Å“cluster with a high rate of both blooms and deaths, according to Ohio State University researchers. In fact, the death rate from nonalcoholic liver disease was nearly twice as high in the four counties as the national rate during the 12 years of the OSU study, according to data calculated for TCPalm by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the study found a suspicious link between the toxin, called microsystin, thats commonly found in blue-green algae, called cyanobacteria, it did not go so far as to confirm that blooms cause liver disease, especially not in particular individuals.
Thats a hypothesis for another study to look at, said study co-author Jiyoung Lee, an OSU professor of environmental health sciences.
Finding a correlation is an important first step, said Edith Ã¢â‚¬Å“Edie Widder, founder and lead scientist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in Fort Pierce.
Its shocking that theres only one of these clusters in Florida Ã¢â‚¬â€ and its us, Widder said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Remember how seeing that a lot of people who smoked developed cancer led to the discovery that smoking causes cancer? We dont want to end up 20 years from now with lots of folks with liver disease on the Treasure Coast because we ignored the warning signs.
*OUNCE OF PREVENTION*
Algae toxins can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested; rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled; and liver disease if drank.
People should limit how much fish they eat from water prone to blooms because thorough cooking wont kill the toxins and boiling water only concentrates them, Lee said.
RICHARD GRAULICH/THE PALM BEACH POST VIA AP
Water full of algae laps along the Sewealls Point shore on the St. Lucie River, Fla.*
The toxin can accumulate in fish, mostly in their livers, but not the flesh that people eat, Lee said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Still, I would be careful eating fish from the river. At most, eat fish once a week.
Breathing it is worse than touching it, Widder said.
Martin County studies last year found toxins in the air around one of the river blooms, but at a rate about seven times lower than the limit for safe inhalation, according to the Florida Health Department, which erected signs warning people not to touch the water. Thats also a concern of Widders, especially as former citrus groves on the Treasure Coast are replanted with row crops. Rice and leafy green vegetables are known to take in microcystin, Widder said. Tomatoes dont.