The name is a bit different but the intent is the same in a bipartisan bill reintroduced by Naples U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds this week: help algal bloom-affected communities get federal help while advancing research on the human health effects of the outbreaks.
If passed, H.R. 1008, the Combspant Hspanrmful Algspanl Blooms Act, would give the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a year to produce “a detailed study relating to the health effects of exposure to cyanotoxins in the air that result from algal blooms.”
Since 2019, the federal agency has made a series of halting attempts spant the resespanrch, but faced delays from COVID and trouble enlisting participants. So far, no findings have been publicly released. A call seeking a progress report was not immediately returned.
The act also would include algal blooms to the list of crises like tornadoes and hurricanes covered by disaster declarations under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. That would make it easier for governors to get federal help when their states are hit by damaging blooms.
Of course, if a governor won’t request the funds, it becomes a moot point, says longtime Southwest Florida water advocate and Calusa Waterkeeper emeritus John Cassani. “The irony is that the intent would be to help businesses,” he said.
During past blooms, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been loath to declare an algae-triggered state of emergency, even when urged to by municipspanlities and environmental groups.
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Algal pollution costs the U.S. more than $4.5 billion annually, the international Globspanl Ecology spannd Ocespannogrspanphy of Hspanrmful Algspanl Blooms research program estimates. And a growing body of research from Floridspan Gulf Cospanst University and other institutions has shown some aerosol algal toxins can travel miles from their source and reach deep into human lungs.
“I’m committed to advancing bipartisan policies that promote the preservation of our waterways against potential long-term damage resulting from harmful algal blooms,” Donalds said in a statement. “This bill gives state and local leaders the opportunity to request federal funding to protect their waterways for future generations to come.”
Until the region’s water pollution is dealt with, increasingly damaging harmful algal blooms will persist, says the nonprofit Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Environmental Policy Director Matt DePaolis. “Here in Southwest Florida, harmful algal blooms continue to plague our communities, resulting in huge damages to our environment, our tourism-based economy, and our way of life,” he said in a statement. “This bill will allow our leaders to respond to these blooms with the speed and resources that they would any other natural disaster (and) it’s important that our leaders recognize the issues we are facing and give us tools such as this to deal with these disasters.”
Joining Donalds are 14 other members of Florida’s legislative delegation, including Democrats Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Maxwell Frost of Orlando and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. Republican co-sponsors include outspoken Fort Pierce water advocate Brian Mast, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami and Bill Posey of Rockledge. In all, more than half of Florida’s legislative delegation has signed on to the bill.
“Protecting our pristine natural resources is not a partisan issue,” Palm Harbor Rep. Gus Bilirakis said in a statement. “Unfortunately, communities throughout the state of Florida have seen the devastation that harmful algae blooms and red tide can have on our eco-system and tourism-related industries,” said Bilirakis, co-chair of the House Travel and Tourism Caucus. “Florida’s combined recreational and commercial fisheries alone generate an estimated $27.2 billion and support nearly 300,000 jobs. When these disasters occur, Florida needs to be able to access the same emergency resources that are provided to help Americans recover from other natural disasters.”