LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Charlotte Harbor Estuary Program to propose cyanobacteria rapid response program

September 7, 2018
By Marcy Shortuse

To the Editor:
The problems with excess nutrients discharged into water and the resulting toxic algae blooms continue to plague Southwest Florida.
In an effort to evaluate potential remediation solutions, the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP), AquaFlex® Holdings LLC, Sea & Shoreline and the Calusa Waterkeeper initiated deployment of various configurations of AquaFlex Open-Cell in the Caloosahatchee River on August 16th and 17th.
This goal of this demonstration was to determine the potential efficacy of simultaneous removal/detection of the algae and accompanying toxins. This technology, first used in 2010 by BP during the DeepWater Horizon oil spill disaster, has been shown to be effective in removing excess phosphorus and oil-related contaminants in other regions.
Samples taken from the AquaFlex Open-Cell foam after the demonstration were analyzed for removal/detection and absorption of algae/cyanotoxins by the Florida- and EPA-approved GreenWater Laboratories of Palatka, FL. The initial results of this deployment indicated that all configurations of the Open-Cell configurations showed evidence of absorption of algae/toxins into the foam capillary network in concentrations ranging from 45,000 ppb – 259,000 ppb.
Given the results of this demonstration, further investigation is warranted. The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, in collaboration with the Florida Gulf Coast University and Sea and Shoreline, are seeking $65,000 in funding for a pilot study of the AquaFlex product over a larger area (~1 acre), including pre- and post-deployment water quality sampling to assess performanc
e. The objective of the pilot program is to evaluate scalability and efficacy of implementing this technology to remediate excess nutrient and toxic algae blooms in Florida.
Overall, while these results are encouraging as a potential remediation technique, the long-term focus should be on controlling nutrient pollutants at their source to keep them out of waterways to reduce future toxic algae blooms. Accordingly, the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, with its partners and members, is continuing to implement on-going large-scale water quality and hydrological restoration initiatives and projects throughout the 4,700 sq. mile Program area from Venice to Bonita Springs to Winter Haven.
Project team would consist of Jennifer Hecker with the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Carter Henne with Sea and Shoreline Aquatic Restoration, Dr. Mike Parsons with Florida Gulf Coast University, and Scott Smith with AquaFlex Holdings LLC (hereinafter “AFH”).

The project team is proposing a rapid response pilot program to remove cyanobacterial and nutrients from the Caloosahatchee River for $65,000 which would include the following:

  • Deployment of open-cell foam rolls for surface removal of the cyanobacteria in approximately one acre of cyanobacteria infected water in the tidal Caloosahatchee River. [Note the foam removes up to 32 times its weight in contaminants and this will include measuring the cyanobacteria removed along with evaluation of disposal in waste to energy facilities where there is no risk of further contamination or human exposure as in a landfill.] Material costs for the open-cell foam for 250,000 square feet of surface area to be deployed as set forth above is $25,000. Travel, labor for deployment, and disposal is estimated at $15,000.
  • Open-Cell foam eelgrass and environmental indicators to be deployed in the water column and submitted to approved Florida laboratories for analysis of cyanobacteria, phosphorus, toxins, and other substances as deemed necessary. Lab testing is estimated at $15,000.
  • Technical oversight, reporting and financial administration is estimated at $10,000.

Background – Prior Validation and Field Work
The outbreak of cyanobacteria and red tide in the waters of Southern Florida is gaining national
attention. New approaches and technologies for rapid response remediation are needed. Given that cyanobacteria feeds on excess nitrogen and phosphorus, it appears that the Open-Cell foam technology may be a suitable rapid response technology worthy of a pilot program to address the cyanobacteria outbreak in the Caloosahatchee River – as it has proven to be very good at absorbing/sequestering particle reactive phosphorus and metals along with hydrocarbons and other contaminants including the cyanobacteria itself and toxins produced by cyanobacteria.
In 2013, AquaFlex Holdings LLC (hereinafter “AFH”) collaborated with the Bermuda Zoological Society which demonstrated how the patent pending Open-Cell foam technology removes metals and hydrocarbons from water. Exhibit A is a summary report and graphs from Dr. Jamie Bacon that show significant reduction of certain metals and hydrocarbons with Open-Cell foam technology. In 2014, AFH filed the initial patent application which is based on actual field work over a multitude of water contamination events including cyanobacteria outbreaks in Toledo, OH and Nantucket, MA.
Exhibit B is the patent filing which is based upon actual field work over 5 years and over 50 water contamination events detailing the efficacy of the Open-Cell foam technology for simultaneous removal/detection of contaminants in water. AFH also worked extensively in a joint demonstration project with UMASS gathering field data from 2014-2015 with a focus on pre-emptive monitoring water with Open-Cell foam technology for simultaneous detection/removal of contaminants from water. The main focus in collaboration with UMASS was to address removal of phosphorus as the primary nutrient that fosters growth and outbreaks of cyanobacteria. The principle here is that by targeting simultaneous removing/monitoring of a key nutrient for cyanobacteria that it is possible to mitigate the growth of cyanobacteria on a large scale – and this research showed some promising results.
AFH has extensive data from the Nantucket project (2 years) and enclosed as exhibit C one testing report as an example where the Open-Cell foam matrix is analyzed as a solid/bulk and showed ranges of 45,000 ppb – 410,000 ppb of phosphorus as removed from the water. AFH has more data including controls that can be provided upon request. This data supports open-cell foam technology sequesters particle reactive phosphorus and metals. AFH is also developing specific formulations aimed to remove nitrates too. AFH asserts that the open-cell foam technology can be scaled up quickly and deployed in a variety of configurations including in roll form from boats and in submerged foam for the water column like natural eelgrass. The cost of the open-cell foam technology is $.10 / square foot of surface area. Exhibit C is a short PowerPoint showing field deployment in Nantucket, MA.
The project team is requesting funding support to conduct a pilot project to deploy this technology and monitor the water quality response in the Caloosahatchee River.
For further information, please contact project team lead:
Jennifer Hecker
Executive Director
Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program
326 West Marion Ave.
Punta Gorda, FL 33950
Toll-free 866-835-5785