State officials confirm red tide found in water off Palm Beach County

Dozens of beaches closed after people complained of breathing issues

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor, Janine Stanwood - Anchor/Reporter

PALM BEACH, Fla. - State officials confirmed Monday that the waters off the coast of Palm Beach County have tested positive for an organism that causes red tide. Dozens of beaches across the county were shut down this weekend after people reported having breathing problems and skin irritation.

Lifeguards wore face masks Monday as they ushered people away from the beaches. Businesses along the beaches said they have seen a drop in customers.

Officials said the beaches would reopen Wednesday, but advised people with respiratory problems to avoid the area. Tests were also conducted in Deerfield Beach in Broward County, but the results won't be available until Wednesday.

Red tide is a natural occurrence that happens due to the presence of nutrients in salt water and dinoflagellates.

This summer, Florida's west coast has been plagued by these salt water algae blooms. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, as hundreds of dead fish and other marine animals have washed ashore and the stench has driven tourists away from beaches.

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the tests in Palm Beach County showed medium concentrations of the Karenia brevis organism, a dinoflagellate. 

"The concentrations we've observed in this isolated area are lower than the high concentrations observed on the Gulf coast," said Susan Neel, the director of FWC's community relations office.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the red tide algae bloom produces toxins that poisons shellfish and other marine animals. 

But those toxins, known as brevetoxins, can also become airborne as waves break. Aerosolized toxins can travel several kilometers inland from the beach and be inhaled by people. This can lead to respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Red tide on Florida's east coast is relatively rare. According to the FWC, this is only the eighth time it's been documented on the east coast.

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