Down here in Miami, we have missed the action taking place up north in Palm Beach and Martin Counties and over on the west coast, in Lee County where Big Sugar is pushing back hard after being thrown on the defensive by a new, coordinated attack by fishermen, homeowners, and citizens furious with the pollution of Florida waterways like the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River. Big Sugar is taking out full page ads, defending the indefensible, calling on local business councils and trying its best to drive wedges in the opposition, because millions of Floridians are finally catching on to the fact that it is just a few billionaire families who are benefiting from the pollution of state waters.
No less an authority than the South Florida Water Management District -- funded by taxpayers -- has leapt to Big Sugar's defense as well, claiming every reason under the sun why pollution is rampant on Florida's coasts, except for the influence of Big Sugar. The District PR machine is huffing and puffing in indignation, venting everywhere except at Big Sugar's refusal to sell lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area adequate to the purpose of cleansing and storage marshes.
Never mind that Big Sugar's legacy pollution of Lake Okeechobee doesn't appear in any of the bright, shiny PR pieces drummed out of its dog-eared playbook. Never mind that more than 75 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 1 in 2014 to do exactly what is needed: buy-out Big Sugar's strategically placed lands. Never mind that the University of Florida published a recent study and more than 200 scientists signed a letter to Gov. Rick Scott urging the acquisition of lands in the EAA. Never mind that those ads don't mention anywhere the political arm-twisting that goes on, at county commissions around the state so that Big Sugar gets what it wants, when it wants it.
Everything is convenient in Florida for Big Sugar. Everything is inconvenient for taxpayers and residents. The PR machine says it all: good for Florida, good for families. Nothing about Big Sugar causing trillion dollar holes in the nation's health care system, or costing tens of thousands of jobs in U.S. food industries, or the collateral damage to waterways that include rare bacterial infections and worse.
"It is a bad time not to believe in scientists," former Martin County commissioner Maggie Hurchalla said the other day. The latest news: that severely polluted waters along South Florida rivers and bays contain the kind of scum that could connect devastating human tragedies from disease to Florida's diseased water management practices.
But don't expect help from your state legislature or Gov. Scott or his presumptive heir, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam. According to a source, Putnam was overheard last week telling a colleague that anyone caught talking about buying Big Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee would be "vaporized". Yes, that is the word he used exactly.
You see, what Big Sugar fears most of all is an educated public. If I were a betting man, I would tell Big Sugar that the world is never going to be more perfect for you than it is right now. You would do best selling all that land, because the world is not shaping up to be a better place for you than right now, right here. That would be my bet.
It's a bad time not to believe in scientists.
Research points to pond scum connection for ALS, Alzheimer’s diseases
HEALTH By John Pacenti - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, March 25, 2016
Some of the most devastating diseases on Earth — ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s — may be connected to one of the world’s most ancient life forms: a ubiquitous photo-synthesizing bacteria that already wreaks havoc on the environment.
Most know it as pond scum.
Blue-green algal blooms damage pristine estuaries and the state’s natural freshwater treasures, such as Florida Bay, Indian River Lagoon, the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee — the latter a backup water source for West Palm Beach. Known as cyanobacteria, this brand of pond scum can percolate in stagnant residential lakes in Palm Beach County.
In the past decade, a consortium of 50 scientists around the world led by firebrand ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox found cyanobacteria produce a toxin called BMAA that acts like an arsonist in the human brain, leaving sticky plaque buildup around nerve cells and causing protein tangles within those neurons. It is the same calling card found in patients of these neurological illnesses.
Among ongoing research is a study looking at Florida waterways and lakes to see if there are ALS hot spots where algal blooms are routine. Releases from Lake Okeechobee feeds such blooms, prompting protests on the Treasure Coast. It seeks to duplicate a study out of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire that found clusters of ALS patients living near contaminated lakes in New England.
Evidence shows that BMAA can be ingested, even inhaled, by humans.
In his TED Talk on YouTube, Cox uses a slinky to represent the protein strand within a nerve, saying BMAA turns the strand into a twisted mess similar to how the once iconic toy often ends up. BMAA takes the place of a key amino acid in a brain’s nerve cells, causing it to tangle. The neurotoxin also jams another signal used by the brain to pass impulses to the spine and the muscles.
Dr. Deborah Mash, director of the University of Miami’s Brain Endowment Bank, picked up Cox’s discovery and ran with it, finding evidence of BMAA in the brains of people from North America. Her team found BMAA in 23 of 24 samples derived from 12 Alzheimer’s patients, while a control group had very little of the neurotoxin. Samples from 13 ALS patients all tested positive.
Larry Brand of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciencefound high levels of the neurotoxin in sea life from Florida coastal water beset by algal blooms, including pink shrimp and blue crab.
Ethnobotanist Paul Allen Cox
He said Floridians should be concerned about algal blooms caused by water releases from Lake Okeechobee, long polluted by farmland and urban runoff stretching all the way to Orlando, and considered a source of algal blooms.
“I personally would never eat seafood from Indian River Lagoon or Florida Bay,” Brand said.
Brand also found BMAA in apex predators like bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon, which is plagued with large blooms of cyanobacteria. “They are seeing more and more dolphins seemingly exhibiting unusual behavior, they seem to be getting lost,” he said. “They had dolphins who were swimming up freshwater rivers, freshwater lakes and so on. It sounds just like an Alzheimer’s patient.”
Ethnobotanist Paul Allen Cox in Guam
Cox is not saying that BMAA is the only cause of ALS or Alzheimer’s, Brand pointed out. Some people may be more susceptible than others to BMAA, he said, noting that not all lifelong cigarette smokers develop lung cancer.
“No one is claiming BMAA is the only cause,” he said. “There has been all kinds of hypotheses in the past. Aluminum, brain trauma. There are probably lots of different things that lead to these neurological diseases. BMAA looks like it can be one.”
The BMAA connection
2005: Dr. Paul Alan Cox of the Institute for EthnoMedicine resurrects previous hypotheses connecting the neurotoxin BMAA produced by cyanobacteria in Guam to the high-rate of ALS in the indigenous Chamorro people, where a quarter of the residents of some villages perished from the disease.
2008: Dr. Deborah Mash, director of the University of Miami’s Brain Endowment Bank, finds evidence of BMAA in the brains of North American patients who died from Alzheimer’s and ALS but not in those who died of Huntington’s disease, which is strictly genetic.
2009: Dr. Elijah Stommel, at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, finds clusters of ALS patients living near lakes contaminated with cyanobacteria in New England. Cox, in another study, discovers Gulf War veterans were exposed to BMAA in sand storms and have a high rate of ALS.
2010: Researcher Larry Brand of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science found high levels of BMAA in sea life from Florida coastal waters, including pink shrimp and blue crab that are eaten by humans.
2014: Dr. Walter Bradley, a neurologist at UM’s School of Medicine, compiled evidence of neurological hot spots around bodies of water in Florida, which suffers from algae bloom and red tide associated with releases from polluted Lake Okeechobee.
2016: Cox, Mash and other scientists publish their study by the Royal Society of London showing vervets on St. Kitts & Nevis when fed BMAA found in blue-green algae exhibit the brain tangles and amyloid plaque deposits that are the signature of Alzheimer’s . The study also found when those vervets had L-serine, a naturally occurring amino acid, the density of tangles was reduced up to 85 percent.
2016: Philanthropists in Palm Beach work to raise $3 million to pay for further animal testing, as well as a scientific study of L-serine.
Solving vexing disease
Scientists are focusing on the mysteries behind three deadly neurological diseases.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease: Two to three of every 100,000 people are diagnosed annually.
Alzheimer’s disease: Accounts for up to 70 percent of dementia worldwide, affecting 48 million people. Is the nation’s most expensive disease, with the estimated cost of care at $226 billion in 2015.
Parkinson’s disease: Resulted in 103,000 deaths globally in 2013 — up from 44,000 in 1990.