Algal Toxins in Seafood and Drinking Water

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The U. Environmental Protection Agency has identified numerous toxins produced by certain types of blue-green algae. Ingested cyanotoxins that attack the liver can create abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, an inflamed and bleeding liver, pneumonia or kidney damage and might even promote tumor growth. Another set of cyanotoxins attacks the nervous system and can cause tingling, numbness, a burning sensation, drowsiness, incoherence, paralysis or death.

Skin contact with cyanotoxins can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, throat, nose or respiratory tract. Blue-green algae isn't all bad, however. Some cyanobacteria—those that don't produce toxins—can actually improve the quality of bodies of water by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and by making nitrogen available to plants, a process called nitrogen fixation. These actions support the growth of plants and the animals that eat them.

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Dog Deaths Raise Algal Bloom Alarm as States Report More Toxins

While category includes protists and cyanobacteria that can cause harmful algal blooms, it also includes seaweed and kelp, which help cleanse and balance marine ecosystems, and thus play a role in producing clean water. Algae is everywhere: and although the vast majority of algae in drinking water is generally harmless, it's best to be on the safe side—wash filtered-water pitchers, camping water containers and pet bowls with bleach, and keep them out of the heat and sun to discourage algal growth.

1. Introduction

Steer clear of areas with harmful algal blooms, and always boil water from freshwater drinking sources. Reports of dogs dying in North Carolina in August drew national headlines , and eight additional dogs died in Michigan the same month from possible exposure to algae-linked bacteria after the canines took a dip into ponds, streams, or lakes. Rising temperatures and more rainfall linked to climate change will likely cause more algal blooms in the future, especially in fresh water, Shelly Tomlinson, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said in an interview.

Marc Suddleson, a program manager in that same NOAA center, also said that blooms across the world are lasting longer, getting more toxic, and appearing earlier and later in the year. And species of toxin-releasing bacteria are popping up in new locations.

Agency Information

Half a dozen state environment regulators contacted by Bloomberg Environment repeated the same idea. Congress authorized funding, most recently last December , to spur federal research of algal blooms.

An effective organization dealing with the issue across states is the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council, a state-led coalition that includes members from all 50 states, according to Pam Anderson, a manager at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. An EPA spokeswoman pointed out that states are the main authority for setting water quality standards and effluent limits.

EPA data indicates 35 states have implemented guidelines for algal bloom bacteria and toxins in recreational waterways. But the EPA is only aware of two states—Ohio and Oregon—that have used EPA guidelines to develop drinking water standards for algal bloom bacteria, she said. While some states have closely monitored and tracked toxins for years, others are just beginning to build out more robust responses.

Cyanobacterial bloom on Lake Okeechoobee in 2016

California is on the more passive side of the spectrum. Those reports and advisories are posted online at a statewide monitoring and alert portal, which launched in In , the California State Water Resources Control Board received bloom reports, and the California Department of Public Health reported 19 cases—involving eight people, four dogs, and seven fish—of suspected, probable, or confirmed incidents of sickness linked to harmful algal blooms to the Centers for Disease Control. On the other end of the spectrum is Ohio, which has monitored blooms closely since , and ramped up water testing following massive toxic algal blooms that led to drinking water shutdowns in the Toledo area in and Some state regulators said it was difficult to tell whether the problem is getting worse—or if monitoring and reporting is simply getting more comprehensive.

The public often plays a large role by calling regulators and sending in pictures of blooms.


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Rising temperatures and more rainfall linked to climate change will likely cause more algal blooms in the future, especially in fresh water, Shelly Tomlinson, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said in an interview. Marc Suddleson, a program manager in that same NOAA center, also said that blooms across the world are lasting longer, getting more toxic, and appearing earlier and later in the year.

Human Illness associated with HABs

And species of toxin-releasing bacteria are popping up in new locations. Half a dozen state environment regulators contacted by Bloomberg Environment repeated the same idea. Congress authorized funding, most recently last December , to spur federal research of algal blooms. An effective organization dealing with the issue across states is the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council, a state-led coalition that includes members from all 50 states, according to Pam Anderson, a manager at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

An EPA spokeswoman pointed out that states are the main authority for setting water quality standards and effluent limits.


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EPA data indicates 35 states have implemented guidelines for algal bloom bacteria and toxins in recreational waterways. But the EPA is only aware of two states—Ohio and Oregon—that have used EPA guidelines to develop drinking water standards for algal bloom bacteria, she said. While some states have closely monitored and tracked toxins for years, others are just beginning to build out more robust responses. California is on the more passive side of the spectrum.

Those reports and advisories are posted online at a statewide monitoring and alert portal, which launched in In , the California State Water Resources Control Board received bloom reports, and the California Department of Public Health reported 19 cases—involving eight people, four dogs, and seven fish—of suspected, probable, or confirmed incidents of sickness linked to harmful algal blooms to the Centers for Disease Control. On the other end of the spectrum is Ohio, which has monitored blooms closely since , and ramped up water testing following massive toxic algal blooms that led to drinking water shutdowns in the Toledo area in and Some state regulators said it was difficult to tell whether the problem is getting worse—or if monitoring and reporting is simply getting more comprehensive.

The public often plays a large role by calling regulators and sending in pictures of blooms. Some states also allow citizens to alert regulators online, as through a new reporting system New York launched this year.