Pahokee marina cleanup underway

Extremely high nitrogen levels found in marina water

Posted 4/30/21

A foul smell mass chokes the Pahokee marina.

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Pahokee marina cleanup underway

Extremely high nitrogen levels found in marina water

Posted

PAHOKEE – The Pahokee marina is closed to the public but the stench from the blue-green mass choking the enclosed basin is not confined to the lakeside park. Winds from the lake carry the foul odor over the dike and past the city’s water tower.

On Friday, a city employee at the entrance to the marina warned members of the press that anyone with a weak stomach, allergies or breathing problems should stay away.

Gator Dredging arrived Thursday on a seven day contract with the State of Florida to clean up the blue and green muck floating on the water’s surface.

Charlie Gertz, of Gator Dredging, said three years ago the state awarded the company a contract to clean up blue-green algae, but this is the first time they have been called out on cleanup. He said most of the time they work on wastewater treatment plants and sewage spills.

Gator Dredging will capture the “chunky algae” from the basin. They will also suck up the surface water and run it through a chemical process to remove the algae from the water, and then use ozone to kill any microcystin toxins. The cleaned water will be retuned to the lake. The algae waste will be trucked to a disposal site designated by the South Florida Water Management District.

Gertz said a lot more could be done to clean up the marina, including the dredging the muck, but how much Gator Dredging will do depends on the state. Their current contract only includes cleaning out the mats of algae.

Gator Dredging works all over the state, he said.

Also on site is Breen Aquatics of Loxahatchee. Breen Aquatics' Weedoo machinery  is designed not only to suck up   blue-green algae, but also remove some of nutrient load from the water.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) sampled algae bloom on April 26. The sample returned positive for Microcystis aeruginosa, with a toxicity level of 860 micrograms/liter. The World Health Organization considers 8 micrograms/liter to be the safe limit for human recreational exposure to the microcystin toxin.

On April 28, Pahokee Interim City Manager Jongelene Adams sent notices to all tenants at the marina, asking them to vacate the marina  no later than April 30. The marina will be closed to the public until futher notice.

An April 30 report from the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management showed high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water at the marina.

Low (100 colony forming units or cfu) and medium (200 cfu) levels of E Coli bacteria were also found.

This map shows the location where the samples were taken.

This map shows the locations where water samples were taken.
This map shows the locations where water samples were taken.

"The results reflect moderate to slightly elevated E. Coli concentrations.  The E. Coli results do not suggest a septic/sewage contaminated water body," explained Michael Stahl, deputy director of Environmental Resources Management.

"The reported total nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations are extremely high," he noted.

"In addition, the Pahokee Marina is separated from Lake Okeechobee except for the limited entrance/exit, which creates stagnant waters in the marina, warmer temperatures, which in combination with elevated nutrients is conducive for algae blooms."

The sources of the nitrogen and phosphorus loading in the marina have not been determined.

Signs have been posted warning the public to stay away.

The public is encouraged to exercise caution in and around Lake Okeechobee near the Pahokee Marina located in the City of Pahokee, Florida.

Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that occur frequently in Florida’s freshwater environments, according to the Florida Department of Health.

A bloom occurs when rapid growth of algae leads to an accumulation of individual cells that discolor water and often produce floating mats that emit unpleasant odors. Blooms may negatively impact fish and other aquatic animals.

Some environmental factors that contribute to blue-green algae blooms are sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions and a plentiful supply of nutrients. Blooms can appear year-round but are more frequent in summer and fall. some types of blue-green algae can produce toxins.  

Unfortunately, you cannot tell if bluegreen algae are producing toxins just by looking at a bloom. Blue-green algae blooms can impact your health. Direct contact or breathing airborne droplets (such as those created by pond/lake fountains or irrigation/sprinklers) containing high levels of algal toxins can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting. There is not sufficient information available yet on potential long-term health impacts from exposure, but we are actively supporting research to find some of these answers.

Children, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised may be at risk even at low concentrations and should avoid any exposure.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:
• Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there are toxic algae blooms.
• Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
• Keep pets away from the area. Waters where there are algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different source of water when algae blooms are present.
• Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
• Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish well.
• Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

Find current information about Florida’s water quality status and public health notifications for harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov.

Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide water quality information through environmental transparency and a commitment to action.

Report fish kills to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, call 1-800-636-0511.

Report symptoms from exposure to a harmful algal bloom or any aquatic toxin to the Florida Poison Information Center, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak to a poison specialist immediately.

Contact your veterinarian if you believe your pet has become ill after consuming or having contact with blue-green algae contaminated water.

If you have other health questions or concerns about blue-green algae blooms, please call the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County Communications Office at 561-671-4014 or go online to
http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/harmful-algaeblooms/index.html
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