Charlotte County commissioners approved their fourth, week-long extension of the emergency status for red tide Tuesday.
Joseph Pepe, interim director for the Florida Department of Health for Charlotte County, told commissioners he is working with health providers in the region to collect better data on how red tide is affecting the health of residents.
Pepe said he believes red tide may be contributing to high counts of bacteria that have closed area beaches twice this summer.
“I’m not 100 percent certain as to the cause of bacteria levels,” Pepe said. “My assumption is there is a correlation between the fish kills and the bacteria levels that we’re seeing.”
The state issued the first emergency alert on Aug. 14 for the toxic algae bloom that has plagued communities in Southwest Florida in recent months. Red tide, called karenia brevis, is a saltwater algae originating in open waters of the gulf and migrating to the shore. While scientists have not determined its cause, state agencies agree red tide releases an airborne toxin that is irritating to human respiration. The toxin is lethal to many forms of wildlife and beach communities have been cleaning up truckloads of dead fish all summer, along with dead manatees.
Commissioner Joseph Tiseo asked Pepe why the state Department of Health has not done more to study the health effects of red tide and other toxic algae.
“There’s a lot of scientific debate in order to diagnose, what is a toxic exposure,” Pepe said.
He said he has been pressuring his colleagues in Tallahassee to produce better materials for people to tell them what to do if they feel sick following exposure to toxic algae, and where to go.
The state of emergency also allows local businesses affected by red tide, more time to apply for no-interest loans, up to $50,000, from the state. The application is found online at www.florida disasterloan.org.
Owners of some tourism-related businesses have shared their stories of lost revenue. Boat captains in particular have lost business. And beach life in general has dropped off at times as area health departments warn of respiratory irritations from being on the beach or swimming in the water.