How The Florida Red Tide Algae Bloom Affects Air Quality

How The Florida Red Tide Algae Bloom Affects Air Quality

This year, Alex had a plan to visit Florida to have a decent beach vacation. He was very excited to attend a bachelor party with his childhood friends. While they were enjoying the beach life, they decided to grab a bite to eat at a seafood restaurant. As soon as they settled in, they noticed an awful smell which they had never experienced before. They started discussing among themselves, “what's going on here?”

How Red Tide Affects IAQ

In the meantime, the waitress Denise showed up and started apologizing before even taking the order regarding the awful smell. She introduced herself as a part timer there but was looking for a job as a marine biologist. She further elaborated that this was not usual, however once in a while they experienced a problem with the “algae bloom”. Alex himself was an aerobiologist and started wondering how could this smell influence the indoor living? He had noticed that this noxious smell can also give rise to adverse health conditions as well discomfort. Alex wanted to clarify to Denise some of the facts on this activity and a possible correlation with that of the airborne toxins.

Health Affects of Red Tide

Denise stated to Alex and his friends that when harmful algae or other planktons growing in the sea blooms out of control, this phenomenon is commonly known as “red tide”. This affects sea life adversely, as a result of which a number of fish die on the shores. All the death and decay of sea creatures, including fish, emit various chemicals that may have an unpleasant odor. Besides the odor, the red tide common causal organism Karenia brevis itself emits a characteristic smell. It produces toxins known as brevetoxins, which is a neurogenic toxin. The substances emitted due to algal bloom can be transported through the air. Upon exposure to these toxins, one can experience respiratory irritation to the lungs and throat, a scratchy throat sensation, as well as difficulty breathing.

Red Tide SunsetLarge scale toxin buildup in the water causes mass sea life death as well as contaminated shellfish, that when consumed, cause severe gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms. Those that inhale sea spray containing these toxins are at risk for DNA damage one study suggests. This year, Florida is experiencing one of the worst red tide outbreak in decades. Denise went on saying that at its peak, over 145 miles of coastline was observed to have an above average level of algae responsible for the “red tide”. She was also wondering how the heavily populated Florida coastal community along with tourists were affected. At this time, limited data is available to have a direct correlation between “red tide” and general health and hygiene.

Allergies and Red Tide

Alex added that last night while he was scanning the newspaper, he was surprised to note that allergy specialists reported a 20% increase in patients above normal for the summer months in the local area. The effect can be exacerbated for those that are immunocompromised or especially susceptible to changes in air quality. Denise referenced a recent study of asthmatics showing an increase in symptoms associated with red tide as well as decreased lung function in as little as one hour of beach exposure.

Alex stated, “I truly believe that factors such as wind speed, surf, relative humidity, and temperature all play a role in the transmission of these toxins from sea to land”. The sea spray from the natural tides cause an aerosolization of the toxins which can then travel many miles onto land through air.

Minimizing The Impact of Red Tide on Indoor Air Quality

Denise pointed out the effect of red tide’s lingering smell can persist for as long as the bloom is present. Red tide events can last for as long as a year before levels of the algae return to normal. Alex went on suggesting that to combat the problem of odor and discomfort we can use air scrubbers as well as a hygiene assessment of the air conditioning system especially in those buildings located in and around the affected area. A negative air pressure machine in conjunction with a carbon-activated HEPA filter to “scrub” the air of containments. This remediation technique can help alleviate the smell, throat and lung irritation, and difficulty breathing with the toxins associated with red tide.

The building filtration system requires additional scrutiny and periodical change in the air filter to keep the contaminants at bay. Building hygiene assessment is beneficial to evaluate indoor environments due to various pollutants produced by death and decay of sea life. Infiltration of these substances in the occupied space can affect healthy occupancy. The bachelor party turned out pretty good because it offered some insight into natural phenomena that impacts our life, directly or indirectly. All the boys said thank you to Denise and had a fabulous dinner and a great vacation time.

For more information on EDLab at Pure Air Services, Inc. please contact Alan Wozniak, at (800) 422-7873 x 802, visit

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