ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- People may experience respiratory problems because of a persistent bloom of toxic red tide off Florida's Gulf Coast, the National Weather Service said Friday.
The service issued a “beach hazards statement” affecting the oceanfront and bayside shores in Pinellas County from 11:30 a.m. Friday through at least 10 p.m. Saturday. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing and watery eyes.
“People with asthma, emphysema or any chronic lung disease may be more sensitive,” the NWS statement said. “Irritation may vary by beach and throughout the day.”
Red tide occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico but can be made worse by the presence of nutrients such as nitrogen, which is often found in fertilizers.
Many experts suspect the red tide outbreak in the Tampa Bay area has been exacerbated by the release earlier this year of more than 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of contaminated water from an old phosphate operation in Manatee County.
More than 1,000 tons (1,000 metric tons) of dead marine life have been scooped up in Tampa Bay and nearby coastlines during the outbreak.
Local officials and environmental groups have called on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a red tide emergency, but the governor insists adequate resources are in place to deal with the problem.