U.S. Fresh Water At Risk From Toxic Green Algae

First Reported Dog Death In Oregon From Toxic Green Algae Lake Water

China reports huge algae bloom off eastern seaboard; Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, has same toxic problem

By Greg Szymanski, JD
June 24, 2010

As summer hits, toxic green algae in fresh water lakes is again making headlines across the North America and China. This type of fresh water toxicity, seen in thousands of lakes including Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, seriously threatens human life and the integrity of fresh water drinking supplies worldwide.

In the the states, Kuta Ku, an Alaskan Malamute,  is the first confirmed canine fatality from toxic blue-green algae. States in the U.S.routinely issues warnings about algae blooms, but not all waterways are monitored.

In China, cyanobacteria (toxic green algae) outbreaks, like those effecting Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, are also making big news.

Here are few paragraphs from a Bejing story, posted June 24:

“A floating expanse of green algae floating off China’s eastern seaboard is growing and spreading further along the coast, state-run media has reported.

“The algae bloom has expanded by about 50 percent since it was first reported by state media earlier in the week to 320 square kilometres (120 square miles), or about four times the size of Hong Kong island, Xinhua news agency said.

“The algae island was previously situated several kilometres off the coast of Shandong province but has expanded southwards to waters off neighbouring Jiangsu, it said in a dispatch late Wednesday.

“Algae blooms are typically caused by pollution in China and suck up huge amounts of oxygen needed by marine wildlife to survive and leave a foul stench when they wash up on beaches.”

Back in the states where the Malamute died from drinking toxic green algae lake water, here are a few paragraphs from an Oregon news report.

LANE COUNTY, ORE –Before you hit your favorite swimming hole or fishing spot this summer, check to make sure it’s safe to swim.

Blue-green algae blooms in bodies of water around Oregon every summer, leading the state to issue health advisories warning people to stay out of the water.

The algae can produce harmful toxins that can make people and animals sick, even causing deaths.

Dogs died after drinking the toxins in Elk Creek near the Umpqua River last summer.

So far, the Department of Human Services Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance Program has issued just two warnings this year, for Willow Lake and Lost Creek Lake in Southern Oregon.

“I think because we’ve had such a cool, wet spring it’s probably delayed the onset,” said Al Johnson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

In 2009, 21 advisories were issued.  In 2008, 14 advisories were issued.

Warnings are posted when a bloom is found, but not all bodies of water in Oregon are monitored regularly.

And these are not the only stories surfacing in the States regarding toxic green algae. Other lakes in China and Australia are reporting serious toxic fresh water drinking problems. Here is a short report from The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch about another lake in the states being effecting with the onset of hot weather:

By Vince Bond Jr.

New and potentially dangerous algae have moved into Grand Lake St. Marys, joining a toxic bloom that forced state officials to warn visitors last year to keep their distance.

The 13,000-acre lake has long been considered one of the state’s most polluted. Fertilizers and manure from farms in Mercer and Auglaize counties have helped turn the lake green with algae. But now a second strain of algae has officials worried.

Friday, Department of Natural Resources officials placed warning signs urging visitors to be cautious around the lake’s three beaches, said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, department spokeswoman. The signs say visitors should avoid touching “visible surface scum.”

The new algae are called Aphanizomenon gracile and are capable of producing three toxins. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has sent samples out of state to see if this bloom is dangerous.

Harmful algae blooms
Cyanobacteria are single-celled organisms that live in fresh, brackish and sea water. They use sunlight to make their own food. In warm, nutrient-rich environments, microscopic cyanobacteria can grow quickly, creating blooms that spread across the water’s surface and become visible.

Because of the color, texture and location of these blooms, the common name for cyanobacteria is blue-green algae. It is found worldwide. Freshwater Cyano-HABs can use up the oxygen and block the sunlight that other organisms need to live. They also can produce powerful toxins that affect the brain and liver of animals and humans.


Humans can be exposed to cyanobacterial toxins by drinking contaminated water, swimming in water that contains high concentrations of cyanobacterial cells, or breathing air that contains cyanobacterial cells or toxins.


Exposure to high concentrations of cyanobacterial toxins is associated with stomach and intestinal illness; trouble breathing; allergic responses; skin irritation; liver damage; and neurotoxic reactions, such as tingling fingers and toes.


Scientists are exploring the human health effects associated with long-term exposure to low levels of cyanobacterial toxins. Some studies have suggested that such exposure could be associated with chronic illnesses, such as liver cancer and digestive-system cancer.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Lake Atitlan: Take Notice

The people at Lake Atitlan should be concerned over these reports since cyanobacteria last year seriously effected their lake, making water undrinkable.

Local reports indicated approximately 85 per cent of the once pristine 30,000 volcanic lake was covered by toxic green algae, leaving the water undrinkable.

No sewage treatment for the more than 60,000 lakeside inhabitants and poor garbabge collection have seriously contributed to the pollution problems,

And with the recent Tropical Storm Agatha dumping even more pollutants into the lake, local environmentalist from Lake Atitlan said the toxic green algae is bound to return to Atitlan in full force once the rainy season ends and the hot weather hits in November.


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