The toxic algae blooms that have killed dogs in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia have been detected in three New York City parks. Parents and pet owners are being warned to keep their kids and dogs away from the infected water, which can be fatal when dogs lap it up, swallow it while swimming, or lick it off their own fur, as the New York Times reported.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Grace Francese
Outbreaks of potentially toxic algae are fouling lakes, rivers and other bodies of water across the U.S. Nationally, news reports of algae outbreaks have been on the rise since 2010.
What are algae blooms?<p>These smelly blooms <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tZooDsX8Fo" target="_blank">aren't actually algae at all</a>, but photosynthetic microorganisms called cyanobacteria.</p><p>Runoff from farm fields is often polluted with phosphorous and other chemicals in manure and commercial fertilizers. When this polluted runoff gets into lakes, it feeds the growth of cyanobacteria, especially in warm weather. Increasingly heavy rains and flooding, exacerbated by the climate crisis, make the problem worse. </p>
What are microcystins?<p>Many algae blooms are gross, forming a foul-smelling slime on a lake's surface, but not hazardous. But for reasons no one yet understands, some produce poisonous chemicals called cyanotoxins, including the group known as microcystins.</p>
What are the health risks?<p>Microcystin-producing cyanobacteria are a hazard to anyone, but the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/habs/" target="_blank">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> says children are especially vulnerable, since they're most likely to ingest water while swimming. Exposure can cause coughing, nausea, weakness, cramping and headaches, as well as long-term health effects such as liver failure.</p><p>Contact with skin, drinking <a href="https://www.ewg.org/toxicalgalblooms/#map" target="_blank">contaminated tap water</a> or eating contaminated fish can also cause health problems. Even breathing in microcystins can be harmful, and recent studies have shown that the <a href="https://www.news-press.com/story/tech/science/environment/2019/03/15/new-health-questions-raised-fgcu-research-toxic-algae-dust/3176195002/" target="_blank">toxins can become airborne</a>, drifting a mile or more from the site of the outbreak.</p>
How can I recognize and avoid algae blooms?<p>The best approach is to check with your city, county or state health departments, which may issue warnings. You can also use EWG's <a href="https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2019_microcystin/map/" target="_blank">map</a>to see whether authorities have found microcystins in a particular lake in the past few years.</p><p>If you can't find information about a specific lake, get to know the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsgg2rqPKEE&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">warning signs</a>. Look out for dead fish or animals in or near the water, and slime that looks like blue, blue-green, bright green or dark green spilled paint.</p><p>Only experts who test the water can determine definitively whether an algae bloom is toxic. So if you come across what looks like an algae outbreak, stay away – even if you're not sure it's toxic. Don't swim in it, and do your best to avoid breathing the air around it. Contact your health department and alert local news media.</p>
What should I do if I think my child has been exposed to a toxic algae outbreak?<p>If you think your child has come into contact with toxic algae, or shows flu-like symptoms after playing in or near it, rinse them off with water. Make sure they also drink plenty of water. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.</p>
How can we prevent algae blooms?<p>Farming practices like vegetative buffers along streams and rivers help minimize runoff, but these practices won't be widely implemented without regulations that require farmers to apply them. </p><p>Ideally, states would test lakes and other bodies of water for microcystins and other cyanotoxins and warn the public when there's danger. But EWG's new report found that only 20 states test regularly for microcystins and make the data public, and often only after a delay.</p><p>The Environmental Protection Agency should regulate these toxins to protect our tap water supplies. <a href="https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/P100N2VG.PDF?Dockey=P100N2VG.PDF" target="_blank">More than two-thirds</a> of all Americans get their drinking water from utilities that rely at least in part on lakes, rivers or other surface water. Yet the EPA doesn't regulate the level of microcystins and other cyanotoxins in drinking water.</p><p>For more info about toxic algae outbreaks, check out this <a href="https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2019/05/toxic-algae-blooms-what-you-should-know" target="_blank">overview</a>. EWG also maintains a resource center on algae blooms <a href="https://www.ewg.org/key-issues/water/toxicalgae" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
Pet owners around the country are seeing their beloved canines perish after letting them cool off in waters harboring toxic algae.
Less than a week after the official start of summer, New Jersey's largest lake was shut down by state officials due to a harmful algae bloom. Now, well into the heart of summer, Lake Hopatcong remains closed. And, several other lakes that have seen their waters turn green due to a rise in cyanobacteria have also been shut down, including Budd Lake and parts of Greenwood Lake.
If you're looking to cool off in the waters of Mississippi's Gulf Coast, think again.
- This Fourth of July, You'll See 70% More Algae Outbreaks Than Last ... ›
- Harmful Algal Blooms Are Increasing Across the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
- Harmful Algal Blooms Are Increasing Across the U.S. ›
By Anne Schechinger
Over the Fourth of July holiday, many of us love to beat the heat in a favorite lake, pond or river. But this year, vacationers from coast to coast will have to look out for a potentially record-breaking number of algae blooms.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggest that much of the ocean surface will be bluer and greener due to the effect of rising global temperatures on phytoplankton, or microscopic marine algae that contain chlorophyll and need sunlight to live and grow.
The current outbreak, which began in October 2017 off southwest Florida, has been tied to a record 589 sea turtle deaths and 213 manatee deaths, the Herald-Tribune reported, citing figures from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The research, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, shows that from 1925-2016, the frequency of marine heatwaves increased on average by 34 percent and the length of each heatwave increased by 17 percent. In all, the number of marine heatwave days has increased 54 percent per year.
Scientists predict that so much pollution is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico this year that it is creating a larger-than-ever "dead zone" in which low to no oxygen can suffocate or kill fish and other marine life.
The Guardian reported that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is expected to announce this week the largest recorded hypoxic zone in the gulf, an oxygen-depleted swath that's even larger than the New Jersey-sized, 8,185 square-mile dead zone originally predicted for July.
Cyanobacteria bloom at Clear Lake, Lake County, California, resulted in oxygen depletion in the water and the subsequent mortality of multiple aquatic species, including carp, catfish, bluegill and crappie. Kirsten Macintyre, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Associated Press reported that algal blooms have been detected in more than 40 of the California's bodies of water—the highest number in state history. The blue-green cyanobacterium's growth has been fueled by
record-breaking heat and a historic drought.
"Warm temperatures, increased nutrients, and low water flows aggravated by drought conditions and climate change are favoring toxin-producing cyanobacteria and algae; and a number of lakes, reservoirs and river systems are suffering blooms as a result," the California State Water Resources Control Board announced last month.
As the Sacrameto Bee described, this green muck has been spotted across the Golden State:
"Since July, officials have issued notices about potentially toxic blue-green algae in the Klamath River near the Oregon border; along an arm of the state's largest reservoir, Shasta Lake; and at Pyramid Lake in Los Angeles County. They've attributed the deaths of thousands of fish along a section of Clear Lake to toxic blooms. Blue-green algae also has formed in parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, prompting health warnings about green, malodorous water in Discovery Bay and Stockton."
Beverley Anderson-Abbs, an environmental scientist with the State Water Board, told AccuWeather that blooms are usually seasonal, "However, these seasons have been getting longer over the past few years as winters have been relatively warm and water, especially in smaller lakes, has been warming earlier in the year and staying warm later."
"It is very possible that this could get worse in the future as temperatures continue to increase and the possibility of future droughts along with that," Anderson-Ebbs said.
It's Official: August Was the 16th Consecutive Record-Breaking Hottest Month https://t.co/qfedIwojYw @Climate_Rescue @EUClimateAction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1474535715.0
Harmful algal blooms can produce toxins that can cause serious illness in people. Wade Hensley, a resident of Discovery Bay, California was hospitalized after microcystin poisoning, a byproduct of algae. According to NPR, his body went numb from the waist down.
The California Department of Public Health states that algae exposure can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions and other health effects but at high levels, "exposure can result in serious illness or death."
Over on the East Coast, the Chesapeake Bay and waterways beyond are seeing bigger and longer lasting algal blooms. The Daily Press reported that a strain of algae called Alexandrium monilatum has spread from Virginia Beach to the James, York and Rappahannock rivers to the Eastern Shore—even as far north as the Potomac River.
The report states that this year's bloom is still going strong even though it usually disappears by early to mid-September. Researchers are now trying to understand if Alexandrium has an impact on marine life. Currently, it does not appear to be harmful to humans.
"So the guidance is you should probably avoid it," Virginia Department of Health's marine science supervisor Todd Egerton told the Daily Press. "But, for the most part, people haven't reported any issues with it."
A number of other drivers can spur algae growth, from warming water to excess nitrogen and phosphorus runoff. Algal blooms have been known to strip oxygen from the water, creating a "dead zone" that threatens fish and other marine life.
Bad News for #Lobster Lovers https://t.co/Y7LBUMz9qh @Greenpeace @greenpeaceusa @UCSUSA @ClimateReality @sierraclub @NRDC @Waterkeeper— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1474905963.0
More than 20 states have seen occurrences of toxic algae blooms this summer, which have had far-reaching environmental and human health impacts across the country. The algae blooms can also be found around the world, in all climates from Greenland to Oman.
By Karen Chapman
For a month now, South Florida Atlantic beaches have been blanketed by a sickly green, toxic algae sludge that has kept tourists away and businesses reeling.
Florida has a bigger headache this summer than most states, but algae blooms are hardly unique.
Last week, more than 100 people were sickened by toxic algae in a Utah lake fed by agricultural runoff and treated sewage water. Algae-soiled beaches are a perennial health threat in China and the Baltic region. And just two summers ago, an outbreak in Lake Erie forced the City of Toledo to ban city water for nearly half a million residents.
We know that climate change is further exacerbating our algae problem—but also that there are ways to reduce the runoff that causes water quality issues and kills marine life, year after year.
Algae blooms can be minimized and maybe even prevented if we scale up existing efforts to improve fertilizer use and soil health management—practices that can also save farmers money and boost their yields.
Two Efforts to Curb Runoff Ready to Scale
Two initiatives and private-sector partnerships are making significant headway today. If these efforts are replicated at scale, they could have a national—and even international—impact.
Thanks, in large part, to Walmart's demand for more sustainable grains, food companies such as Campbell's Soup, Unilever, Smithfield Foods and Kellogg's are helping the farmers in their supply chain to reduce fertilizer runoff through a rapidly growing program called SUSTAIN.
Spearheaded by the ag retail cooperative United Suppliers, the plan is to have 10 million acres of farmland using best practices for fertilizer management and soil health by 2020.
Precision agriculture tools can help farmers meet the growing demand for sustainably grown grains, but it's difficult to tell which tools perform as advertised. That's why we developed NutrientStar, an independent program that assesses the fertilizer efficiency claims of products on the market.
'Guacamole-Thick' Algae Takes Over Florida's Atlantic Coast, 4 Counties Declare State of Emergency https://t.co/r3n8BhYXD4 @TheCCoalition— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1467538505.0
What Will It Take?
Supply chains are a powerful tool for igniting change. Companies can signal that fertilizer efficiency and good soil management are not just good for the environment, but also for improving water quality, protecting aquatic species and helping a farmer's yields and bottom line.
But to get a handle on our growing algae problem in the U.S. and overseas, there is no one silver bullet.
We need more food companies to embrace sustainable sourcing, ag retailers to replicate the SUSTAIN model in order to reach millions of growers and farmers to use NutrientStar to understand how tools perform in the field. Agricultural policies must also align with and accelerate, adoption of conservation best practices.
To turn these initiatives into tangible environmental improvements, we must work with and not against farmers and agribusiness. The people who feed our rapidly growing population—and the companies that support them—are and must be, our most important allies.