U.S. House Approves Buchanan Red Tide Amendment
WASHINGTON— By a 401-23 vote, the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved Rep. Vern Buchanan’s measure to study the impact of red tide on human health. Buchanan’s amendment instructs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to designate $6.25 million to research the long-term health effects of red tide and other Harmful Algal Blooms.
“Scientists and researchers still do not know the full extent of red tide’s harmful effects on our health,” Buchanan said. “That has to change and my measure seeks to advance this important research.”
Buchanan submitted his amendment to a sweeping government funding bill. Final passage of the funding package is expected next week.
“Red tide is an enormous burden on our community's economy, environment, and way of life,” Buchanan said. “Last year’s nearly unprecedented bloom wreaked havoc on the Suncoast. My amendment is designed to devote more than $6 million to study the harmful effects of this algal plague. We need to know the long-term effects on people exposed to red tide.”
Last year Florida suffered one of the five worst bouts of red tide in the state’s history. The bloom, which finally dissipated this past February, had plagued the coast for more than 15 months. In fact, Southwest Florida is uniquely vulnerable to red tide, as it has seen this type of algae bloom occur more than twice as often as any other area in the state.
Red tide is a toxin-producing algae that killed thousands of fish and affected tourism in the Suncoast region. Last year alone, the algae killed hundreds of dolphins and manatees as well as thousands other marine animals. Thousands of tons of dead marine life washed ashore local beaches, causing significant hardship on both local residents and county governments.
Human consumption of shellfish contaminated from red tide areas can cause severe illness and even lead to death in certain circumstances. Additionally, people who swim in red tide or inhale the toxins while near the water can suffer from severe respiratory issues, skin irritation and rashes. The Florida health department even advises that people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions like asthma are especially vulnerable and should steer clear of red tide waters. Calls to the Florida Poison Control Center due to red tide more than tripled from 2017 to 2018.
And while short-term effects of red are well-documented, USA Today points out that “long-term data is scarce, a fact that is “worrisome for scientists who study the organisms and doctors who are seeing patients ill from the blooms.”
Dr. Charles Klucka, an allergist with offices in Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, reported a more than 20 percent increase in patients suffering from breathing issues last summer compared to previous years. He cited red tide as the reason for the increase and expressed concern about the lack of research on long-term exposure stating, “For people that live exposed months and months, we don’t know the long-term effects.”
In one local case last year, a pregnant Siesta Key woman was suffering from health ailments and was forced to relocate from her home near red tide.
According to NOAA, harmful algae blooms cause $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year in the United States.
Buchanan’s Commitment to Combatting Red Tide
In 2018, a Buchanan proposal to increase funding for red tide research by $8 million was signed into law.
In February, Buchanan chaired a hearing on some of the most pressing water quality issues affecting the Sunshine State.
Last year, Buchanan also backed a proposal that was signed by President Trump to provide more than $100 million to combat Harmful Algal Blooms such as red tide.