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TOXIC ALGAE - WATER CONTAMINATION

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UPDATED - On August 3, 2014 - from the Toledo Blade - "A once-unthinkable crisis in the world’s greatest freshwater region — sent more than 500,000 metro Toledo residents scrambling for bottled water."

A toxin produced by the harmful blue-green algae known as microcystis contaminated municipal water supplies in Northwestern Ohio and Southern Michigan.  

The cause of the microcystis algae bloom is primarily phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff, and the amount of phosphorus determines the bloom’s size. Scientists are also learning that another farm fertilizer, nitrogen, affects the size and composition of the annual bloom.

Toledo sits on the shoreline of the Great Lakes, which holds approximately 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water."  Read more 

In the summer and fall, harmful algal blooms are a major environmental problem in all 50 states. You've probably heard about red tides, blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, harmful algal blooms, but do you know about their severe impact on human health?

Human Health

Harmful algal blooms create toxins and compounds are toxic to human health. There are several ways that people (and pets) can be exposed to these toxic compounds.

Drinking, accidentally swallowing or swimming in water affected by a harmful algal bloom can cause serious health problems.

Algal blooms can be toxic.

Keep people and pets away from water that is green, scummy or smells bad.

If your water supply is affected by toxins from algae blooms

  • DO NOT BOIL THE WATER - boiling increases algae bloom toxins
  • DO NOT USE FOR BATHING
  • DO NOT USE FOR COOKING
  • DO NOT USE FOR CLEANING

What types of illnesses can people and animals get from exposure?

  • Getting it on the skin may give people a rash, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits).
  • Inhaling water droplets from irrigation or water-related recreational activities can cause runny eyes and nose, a sore throat, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.
  • Swallowing water that has toxins in it can cause:
    • Acute, severe gastroenteritis (including diarrhea and vomiting).
    • Liver toxicity (i.e., increased serum levels of liver enzymes). Symptoms of liver poisoning may take hours or days to show up in people or animals. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting.
    • Neurotoxicity. These symptoms can appear within minutes after exposure. In dogs, the neurotoxins can cause salivation and other neurological symptoms, including weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death. People may have numb lips, tingling fingers and toes, or they may feel dizzy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in its Guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments, Vol. 1, Coastal and Fresh Waters, offers guidelines to follow when algal blooms are present:

  • Avoid areas with visible algae and/or scums. Direct contact and ingestion are associated with the greatest health risk. If no scums are visible, but water shows a strong greenish discoloration such that you cannot see your feet when standing knee deep (after sediment has settled) avoid bathing (swimming), immersion of head, and/or ingestion.
  • Avoid waterskiing in visible scums or waters with a strong greenish coloration as described above because of the potentially substantial risk of exposure to aerosols.
  • If sailing, sailboarding or undertaking any other activity likely to involve accidental immersion, wear clothing that is loose fitting in the openings. Use of wet suits for water sports may result in greater risk of rashes, as the algal material trapped in the wet suit will be in contact with the skin for longer periods of time. After coming ashore, shower or wash to remove algal material.

Click here a link to an informative slide show from Toxic Algae News.  You can also submit information and pictures to Toxic Algae News.

If you'd like more information about toxic algae blooms, what causes them and how you can help, please visit some of these links:

http://www2.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/harmful-algal-blooms

http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/hab/

http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/bathing/srwe1-chap8.pdf



1 Response

Laurie Pahdopony
Laurie Pahdopony

December 30, 2014

Three months ago in September 2014, I made a “temporary” move to the Toledo, Ohio area for a work project. My main residence is in Columbus, Ohio and I spend my time between the two places with the majority of my time in Perrysburg where I have rented an apartment. Within a few days after moving here, I noticed that I was having allergy-like symptoms on my skin like hives and generally being sensitive, red, burning and itching on my arms, hands, neck, chest and face. I have also had my eyes swell shut. The reason for these symptoms remained a mystery to me although I suspected it was possibly the water because they seemed worse after showering, although the symptoms persist 24/7. I have never really had any skin problems of this sort prior to coming to the Toledo area, however I did have a reaction years ago to the laundry detergent I was using so I switched to a perfume and dye free product which cleared up the issue.

Over the Christmas holidays I went home to Columbus for over a week and my skin started to clear up and generally felt better- what a relief! When I returned to my Perrysburg apartment yesterday, the first thing I did was wash my hands and before I finished rinsing the soap my hands started to sting and had small red bumps where the water had come into contact with my skin. In light of the Lake Erie water scare back in August, I am wondering if the microcystis algae is the culprit of my skin malady. I did go to my doctor in Columbus in October and he said it was most likely an environmental allergy, but did not know what the allergen could be without further testing – I have not followed up on this because of my crazy full work schedule. Is it possible that I could be allergic to the microcystis algae even though the water has been declared to be at a “safe” level? I’m hoping that this is not the culprit of my symptoms because I’m afraid I would have to quit my job since showering/bathing would be (and is) a huge issue. BTW, I do not drink the tap water up here nor do I use it for cooking – ever. I have also tried several different soaps including a few for sensitive skin and it did not make one bit of difference. Any thoughts on this? Thanks for reading….

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