ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Pinellas County residents are being encouraged to mask up again, but not because of COVID. There’s a different health hazard in the air and water: red tide.

“Inside my home, you can still smell the dead fish,” said Doug Driver who was born and raised in St. Petersburg.

In his 58 years, Driver said he’s never seen red tide worse than this.

“Looking out directly behind my home you can see there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of dead fish in my canal,” Driver said.

Driver’s neighbor Jeff Ward agrees.

“It’s a pungent, nasty, fishy smell..everything is getting so bad back here, we really need help cleaning this up,” Ward said. “You sit out here and your eyes get red and you’re itching them….before you were worried about coughing with COVID, now you don’t know if it’s COVID or coughing from the fish but you can’t sit here long, you’ll just be gagging,” Ward said.

8 On Your Side reached out to the department of health asking how Driver and his neighbors can stay healthy.

Hall said in addition to reporting the issue to poison control, try staying away from it. But if it’s unavoidable, consider masking up.

“It really is a hazard that’s more than cosmetic. Cosmetic means it’s just ugly – but this could affect your respiratory system. Sensitive people really really need to protect themselves,” Hall said.

Last week 8 On Your Side told you about a Venetian Isles neighborhood taken over with maggot-infested rotting fish. As of Monday, it was mostly cleaned up.

St. Petersburg City Spokesman, Benjamin Kirby, said more than 100 employees are working 12 hours days cleaning dead fish.

“I know the city is trying, doing their best, but we sure would like more people scooping them up,” Driver said.

Starting Monday the city has dumpsters at 7 locations. The city says if residents want to clean up the fish themselves they can deposit them inside dumpsters at these locations:

  • Maximo Moorings
  • Bay Vista Park
  • Grandview Park
  • Demens Landing
  • Crisp Park
  • Flora Wiley Park
  • Lassing Park

But Driver said there’s no way he’s putting these rotting fish in his car to get to those dumpsters.

“It’s unpleasant and unhealthy. “Last night I woke up with a little soar throat so yeah, it’s doing something,” Driver said.

So for now, he’ll take the health department’s advice.

“Start wearing a mask because the odor is so strong, and who knows what those particles are going to do when you breathe them into your lungs,” Driver said.

For more information about red tide, how it can impact your health, and what you can do to stay healthy, go to the Florida Department of Health Pinellas County website.