Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Toxic Algae Plagues U.S.

Health + Wellness
Toxic Algae Plagues U.S.

National Wildlife Federation

Summer should be a time for fishing, boating and swimming with family on our nation’s lakes. Yet instead of fresh clear waters, many are encountering mats of thick blue-green harmful algal blooms (HABs)—also known as toxic algae.

A new, first-of-its-kind national online map by the communications firm Resource Media shows that 21 states across the U.S. have issued health advisories and warnings related to harmful algal blooms at 147 different locations on lakes, rivers and ponds this summer.

In partnership with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, Resource Media is also releasing a report, Toxic Algae: Coming Soon to a Lake Near You? The report provides a look at how extreme weather and an increase in nonpoint source pollution from agriculture and failing septic systems are spurring its spread. Health impacts and economic costs are also reviewed. 

The scourge continues to fly beneath the radar of national attention, in part because:

  1. No federal agency currently tracks lake closures or health warnings nationally.
  2. Few economic studies have assessed the national cost of freshwater hazardous algal blooms.
  3. A minority of states monitor lakes and rivers for algal-related toxins.

Tracking of toxic algae showed that this summer:

  • New York State led the U.S., with warnings issued at 50 different lakes and ponds.
  • For the first time, Kentucky officials found toxic algae at four lakes, which collectively draw more than 5 million visitors a year. Some visitors to the lakes complained of rashes and intestinal problems.
  • Western Lake Erie continues to experience a resurgence of toxic algal blooms, leading to health advisories and “do not drink” orders being issued by the state of Ohio. In contrast, the state of Michigan, which shares some of the same waters but does not currently have a formal monitoring or advisory program, issued no health advisories during that same time period.
  • In southeast Florida, a massive toxic algae outbreak covered St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon with fluorescent green slime this summer, prompting warnings from health officials to not touch the water. Scores of dolphins, manatees, birds and fish have died.

“No one wants a green, sick lake,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director, National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “And yet that’s what communities across the country are facing. Excessive runoff is feeding an explosion of toxic algae that is choking our waters, closing our beaches, and posing a threat to people, pets and wildlife. This is a national problem that demands a national solution.”

Heavy rains this spring and summer increased the volume of chemical fertilizer and manure from crops and livestock operations entering waterways across the U.S. Scientists caution that these conditions, plus record-high summer temperatures, contribute to the spread of toxic algae and associated lake closures. Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, can produce liver and nerve toxins that make people and pets sick, and even kill dogs. In addition to public health threats, toxic algae blooms in lake communities have a significant effect on local economies by reducing lake-related tourism.

“Toxic algae outbreaks slimed Florida’s inland waters this summer, killing wildlife, hurting property values and devastating tourism revenue,” said Manley Fuller, president, Florida Wildlife Federation. Thousands of residents have protested, calling for a statewide emergency management plan to stop the toxic slime.”

The report urges federal public officials to set limits on the amount of phosphorous allowed into waters; to maintain efforts to restore the nation’s great waters, including the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico and others; and to pass a strong Farm Bill that pays farmers to take specific actions to help protect soil and water quality.

Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Farm Bill jeopardizes funding for programs like the Conservation Stewardship program aimed at helping farmers protect water quality through implementation of agricultural best management practices. Those include planting cover crops, restoring wetlands or creating buffer strips to filter farm runoff.

More federal attention to the problem is needed. “The reach and extent of harmful algal blooms has likely been under-reported due to the lack of a national program to track health warnings and lakes closures,” said Alan Wilson, associate professor of limnology at Auburn University. “Regional monitoring networks could help fill this important scientific void, and tell us more about how climate change, land use and nutrient pollution influence HAB frequency and intensity."

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.

———

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

This image of the Santa Monica Mountains in California shows how a north-facing slope (left) can be covered in white-blooming hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), while the south-facing slope (right) is much less sparsely covered in a completely different plant. Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.5

By Mark Mancini

If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.

Read More Show Less
Flames from the Lake Fire burn on a hillside near a fire truck and other vehicles on Aug. 12, 2020 in Lake Hughes, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.

Read More Show Less
Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

Read More Show Less

A film by Felix Nuhr.

Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.

Read More Show Less
Scientists have found a way to use bricks as batteries, meaning that buildings may one day be used to store and generate power. Public Domain Pictures

One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.

Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.

The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.

If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.

The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.

"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.

"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."

Aerial view of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama, where a new soil study was held, on Sept. 11, 2019. LUIS ACOSTA / AFP via Getty Images

One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods speaks during a press conference after a shooting at Forest High School on April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Florida. Gerardo Mora / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.

Read More Show Less