Documentary explores the link between ALS and blue-green algae

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX In 2012, WCAX investigated a possible link between the nervous system disease ALS and exposure to toxins from algae blooms in Lake Champlain. In that story we featured UVM Neurology Professor, Dr. Rup Tanden. Dr. Tanden is also in a new documentary about that very same topic. It was produced by the Vermont father-daughter team of Jackie and Jim Heltz. It's called Lake Effect.

Jim Heltz joined us in the studio for an interview with Scott Fleishman.

Scott Fleishman: How long did it (the documentary) take you to do?"

Jim Heltz: "We started the documentary at the 2016 ALS walk and we finished the film in 2017 at that ALS walk. We sort of book-ended it."

Scott: When you watch the documentary, one of the things that stands out is that it's all about evidence. Enough evidence to link the two.

Jim: "Right now it's preliminary. It's not a final thing that yes there is a connection. It is on-going research, but what they're finding, based on their research, based on their numbers, based on the data they're collecting, it's going in that direction. The state of Vermont, the health department, even they on their website mention that there is a possible connection between blue-green algae and ALS. Part of the research is that how far away from the lake, do you have to be, to be safe from the blue-green algae. Is it 100 yards, 200 yards, a half mile, a mile, that's part of the research."

Scott: There's a telling scene in the documentary of you putting on a mask before you go in and film.

Jim: I went up to Lake Carmi. I was there to interview a woman from the state health department doing samples. I get out of my van and the smell, I wouldn't even call it a smell, I'd call it a stench, was so horrible. It smelled sort of like manure, but unnatural. So, we spoke to one person from the lake, Larry Myott. He's been sitting on his back porch, he can feel it getting into his lungs. His eyes got irritated and so he had to go to the doctor. It was so badly irritated. Not because he was drinking the water, or swimming in the water, but because he was just by the water."