Researchers want to know red tide’s long-term impact on human health

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SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The red tide crisis might be in our rearview mirror now, but scientists want to be better prepared for the future.

Researchers are currently doing a first-of-its-kind study on the algae’s impact on human health, and they’re hoping Congress will step in to help.

Charter boat captain Wayne Genthner tries to remain optimistic, but life has not been the same since last year’s red tide crisis.

“I have half the client base I used to have. A lot of people that were here last year decided to opt to go someplace else where red tide has not affected the fishery,” explained Genthner.

Red tide dramatically impacted his wallet and his health.

“I have an asthma condition, so when the wind is blowing, it agitates the water, that toxin in the red tide affects me profoundly. It affects me so bad I shut down my season last year three weeks early and I went home to Barcelona, I left money on the table,” he said. “I experienced lapses in memory, reduced muscle strength, emotional problems.”

Doctors admit they don’t have the answers.

“I’m the director of clinical research. I, therefore, am frequently approached with questions about red tide and we just do not have the information,” said Sarasota Memorial Hospital pulmonologist Dr. Kirk Voelker.

A first-of-its-kind study is currently underway. The Roskamp Institute in Sarasota is enlisting the help of 400 volunteers for a three-year study on red tide’s long term impact.

They want to know if the harmful algae can cause any harm to the brain or other organs.

“This may well be amenable to treatment if there are if specific individuals are at risk,” said Roskamp Institute Executive Director Dr. Michael Mullan.

Congressman Vern Buchanan announced the US House passed an amendment to funnel $6.25 million for more research.

“A good environment is good business,” said Congressman Buchanan. “As a kid that grew up in Michigan, Lake Erie was polluted. I just remember as a kid you couldn’t swim in it, if you did catch a fish you couldn’t eat it, I don’t want that to happen here.”

“This has all gone to another level and we need to bring that level of intensity with it as well to support these organizations so we can get the proper science,” Buchanan added.

Genthner hopes answers are found soon.

“Millions and millions of jobs depend on whether it is healthy to be here or not,” said Genthner. “You have a moral imperative to do the most you can do to establish if there’s a health problem. I think this is a few dollars spent very wisely, it would be wiser to spend a lot more money.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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