No one knows red tide’s long-term health effects. U.S. House just OK’d $6.25 million for a study

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to support an amendment to a sweeping government spending bill to study the harmful effects of red tide to humans.

Thursday’s vote was only to add the amendment to a larger spending bill. It passed 401-23 with bipartisan support.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, sponsored the measure and if the final spending bill passes next week in the House, and later in the Senate, it would designate $6.25 million for the National Institutes of Health to research the long-term health effects from red tide and other harmful algae blooms.

“Scientists and researchers still do not know the full extent of red tide’s harmful effects on our health,” Buchanan said in a prepared statement. “That has to change and my measure seeks to advance this important research.”

Short-term symptoms are well documented and can include scratchy throats and trouble breathing, but long-term data are scarce, raising concerns for doctors who are treating patients who fall ill from the blooms.

Last year’s red tide plagued Florida’s s Gulf Coast communities more than a year, intensifying over the summer. Unknown data includes the number of people who did suffer long-term effects from the bloom, as well as those who became ill from eating contaminated shellfish that may have been red-tide related.

What is known, is that calls into the Florida Poison Control Center more than tripled during the prolonged red tide event.

“Red tide is an enormous burden on our country’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 his algal plague. We need to know the long-term effects on people exposed to red tide.”

In a press release issued by Buchanan’s office on Thursday, Dr. Charles Klucka, an allergist in Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, reported 20 percent increase in patients suffering from breathing issues last summer compared to previous years.

“For people that live exposed months and months, we don’t know the long-term effects,” Klucka said.

According to the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration — which just recently released a prediction report that the Gulf of Mexico will experience a near-record “dead zone” like the one prior to last summer’s red tide outbreak — harmful algae blooms result in $82 million in economic losses each year on the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries.