Red Tide? Hold Your Breath, Run Fast


La-Jolla-Red-Tide.780.jpg The airborne toxins inhaled in the spray of red tides may be cancer causing. At least in lab rats, those sorry creatures perpetually suffering for our crappy decisions. NOAA scientists report that in fighting brevetoxins, the rats’ immune systems convert them to molecules that destroy DNA in the lungs.

Which is the first step for many cancer causing agents. In other words, the process is likely carcinogenic.

The brevetoxin Karenia brevis has long been known to cause neurotoxic poisoning (from consumption of contaminated shellfish), and respiratory irritation (from inhalation of toxic sea spray). Cancer may be its newest side-effect, albeit one with a slower onset.

Red tides, you might remember, are on the rise globally, fueled by our flagrant overuse of fertilizers—which, voila!, also make plants in the sea grow really fast too. Not good for the sea, or you, or me. Or lab rats.

Red tides and their alter-egos, dead zones, are also linked to our warming climate. Both of which are linked to growing threats to human health, even if Dick Cheney’s office worked hard to suppress that information.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.