Here is an interview with a Martin County resident whose website is called: mysickriver.com
One might ask, why is a private individual (who asked for anonymity) -- unconnected to public health services in any way -- undertaking what the State of Florida ought to be doing: creating a database of illnesses caused by contact with Florida's diseased waterways? There is an answer to this question, but first, mysickriver.com The front page includes a statement of purpose:
"... to gather relevant data that will fuel further research into the health of our dying river systems. The information collected will be used to create a comprehensive report in regards to the human health concerns which are facing the areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee and the Saint Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon, and Caloosahatchee River systems. As the main objectives of this study are rooted in the purpose of scientific research and human wellness, we ask that participants be honest and forthcoming with their experiences."When did you start mysickriver.com?
I started the website during what we call "The Lost Summer of 2013". It was late July.
What lead you to start mysickriver.com?
I grew up in Martin County. I have three kids and they are growing up in Martin County … that is part of what makes this so personal to me. I have such a deep love for Martin County. I went to elementary, middle school and high school here and I think this area is so, so very special. It bothers me so much what is happening to our water. My son LOVES to fish. He hates TV, hates computers and tablets, and he hates to be inside. His whole life is about the water. If he could have a fishing rod in his hand all day, he would be in heaven. Isn't this what we want? To have children who aren't stuck indoors, passively staring at television sets? It bothers me he is growing up in a community that loves the water but can't anymore. It bothers me that the very first question he asks in the morning -- because he knows -- "... where is it safe to go in the water? ... where is the water dirty? ... and even if the water is good, he knows we can't eat fish he catches." This is Florida, and it should be safe all the time. Even little things, … It just breaks my heart. When I was a child, over the summer we used to go to camp at the local environmental center. I couldn't wait to go there. We would learn about the manatees, about dolphin and fish in our rivers. Everyone looked forward to being in the third grade because that was when you could go seining in the river. We would put out a net and draw it in and catch sea horses, little turtles, all kinds of fish -- 20 species of fish -- it was just so glorious. But if you go out now, even when the water is safe, the children see one or two species of pinfish. Our waters have been killed off to the point where it is not the same as it was decadees ago and that is just really sad.
That is a very compelling story. Why won't you let me use your name?
I'm a very private person. I did this website because no one else had. We are just neighborhood people here, and we all know about Big Sugar.
Is today's algae bloom worse than 2013?
Yes. It is 100 times worse. 400 times worse, but what is happening now is making me more confident. I'm getting positive encouragement from friends and they are getting involved, too.
What kind of response did you have in 2013?
It was difficult to get the word out. The website only had about 35 reports of illnesses, but I heard about a lot more.
Was there a trigger?
Over July 4th weekend, a lot of friends came down with terrible stomach flu, vomiting and diarreah … once I started asking questions about what they had done, I discovered that most had gone to our local sand bar for the Fourth … I found out there were around 50 cases of people who had become violently ill who had gone to that sand bar. I called the Martin County Health Department. They said they were not required to post signs or alert people becuase they didn’t have public facilities, bathrooms or public access … after a lot of phone calls, they were able to test in other areas … so now the sand bar is posted. At the time, there were a few locations where the county had posted high bacteria warnings, but there was nothing posted for the sand bar or a lot of other parks even though the algae had shown up there.
Why didn't you call the state of Florida Department of Health?
It didn't occur to me. I called my local county. They are the people I know.
Did you feel the Martin County Health Department was responsive?
Yes and no. In 2013 they weren’t encouraging reports about illnesses. They would only take reports at that time if people had gone to doctor, and if the doctor had given a definitive diagnosis. Of course, that is hard for doctors to do. Sometimes the symptoms of bad water are the same as food poisoning or the flu. Anyhow I wanted to see, with the website, if down the road we could see clusters of similar symptoms and possibly dates and times. If we would get 10 reports in one specific area where we know algae is present, that is a smoking gun. I talked with an epidemiologist who said the information could be useful.
After 2013, "The Lost Summer", what happened to your website?
So this summer is worse than 2013?
This year’s event is without a doubt, 100 percent worse. It is just absolutely devastating. I have close to 90 reports right now of people who have gotten severe respiratory illnesses, flu-like symptoms. Some people are getting skin lesions from contact from the water and infections that are very hard to treat. A few weeks ago someone I know, a good friend who lives just half a mile down the street from Central Marina dropped his fishing rod into the water … he didn’t even jump into the river for 30 seconds … then he came straight to my swimming pool and jumped in to wash off ... he didn't even have contact with the actual algae but that night he became violently ill and for the next three days he had awful diarrhea, fever chills and he missed work for the first time in 20 years. In twenty years he had never taken a day off from work for sickness. Not one day. Thirty seconds of exposure to the river.
What are your hopes for mysickriver.com ?
My hope is that more people discover the website. I know that people who are using the Caloosahatchee River and over in Lee County they are getting the same algae bloom from Lake Okeechobee. I also know that people around Lake Okeechobee are using lake water to drink. There are a lot of diseases associated with toxic algae, including neurological ones. The people who are drinking Lake Okeechobee water are at risk, and they should know. I'm hoping eventually to make the data from the website public so that it can be shared and that people know it is a trust worthy source. I am just trying to get information that can help Florida in general. I almost don’t trust anyone else when it comes to these issues, so it’s something I started myself … I know where this information is coming from. It is a very close and tight-knit community.
So what is the biggest lesson you have learned from this experience?
Well, I'm finding out that if you look at how the state regulates agricultural fertilizer -- nitrogen is the biggest pollutant and cause of the algae blooms -- that the basin regulations are all screwed up and Lake Okeechobee is basically just a sewer for polluters. The state is supposed to control impaired waters, but if you look closely it just seems that the state wants to create them. The state should be protecting people, right? My son should be able to put a fishing line in the water without asking me if it's safe or not. That isn't a way to live.
How can people contact you?
People can contact me anonymously through Facebook.
Thank you very much.
NOTE TO READERS: The reason the state does not maintain data bases and track water borne illnesses is no mystery.
Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, and Big Sugar shills like Lee County state representative Matt Caldwell have a thousand excuses. "It's the federal government's fault," they say who otherwise bang the table about "state's rights". The fact is that the State of Florida has sole responsibility for water quality rules and regulations.
Every attempt, over many, many years by environmental groups to proactively tighten pollution regulations has been opposed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, by Associated Industries of Florida, and by Big Ag -- especially Big Sugar. Florida's tourism-related industry groups have been no help at all, either, and Florida's mainstream media -- with a few exceptions -- as been mostly absent even though it takes no imagination whatsoever to predict these results.
Accumulating data of people who become ill from contact with Florida's waters would put pressure on the state to do something about polluters. That is exactly opposite of what big polluters who fund political campaigns want.
Like the bumper sticker says, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.