If you love to get out and enjoy the outdoors in Oregon, whether boating, fishing, camping, hiking or other activities, hopefully you have heard about blue-green algal blooms. If not, please take a few minutes to learn more about these potentially harmful events.
So what is blue-green algae? It is actually not an algae at all, but is instead a cyanobacteria or tiny microscopic organism that lives in the water column or floats on the surface of the water. During warm summer days cyanobacteria can reproduce quickly causing a “bloom”. These algae blooms make the water look like pea soup. As they decay they can cause a thick smelly, foam or scum to form on the water’s surface. This scum can be bright green, blue-green, white or brown in color.
High concentrations of these cyanobacteria sometimes produce toxins that can be harmful to swimmers and other water users, including dogs and other pets or livestock. Skin irritation or rash is the most commonly reported health effect for people swimming in contaminated water. The most severe reactions occur when contaminated water is swallowed. Symptoms range from diarrhea, cramps and vomiting to fainting, numbness, dizziness, tingling and paralysis. While there haven’t been any reported human deaths in Oregon, over the past few years there have been a handful of reports of dogs dying after exposure to blue-green algae contaminated water.
Although not all blue-green algae blooms produce toxins, you cannot tell if an algae bloom is toxic just by looking at it. So, if you come across areas of thick algae, take precaution by avoiding water contact and keeping children and pets out of the water. Never drink or cook with the affected water; neither boiling nor filtering water will remove these toxins. Fish caught in affected waters pose unknown health risks and so it is best not to eat them.
Each summer health advisories are issued for many popular water bodies in Oregon. It is important to know that while these more popular water bodies usually have health advisories issued when a blue-green algal bloom is discovered, there is no regulatory requirement to issue health advisories for all contaminated water and so the best thing for water users to do is to learn what to look for.
For more information contact Lauri Holts at 541-682-4925.