Harmful algal blooms made it into mainstream news this month following the death of dogs that reportedly that came into contact with the toxic blue-green algae that commonly grows in lakes and ponds during hot summer months.
The recent canine deaths and warning signs posted near water bodies from North Carolina to California demonstrate that current conditions are ideal for rapid cyanobacterial growth.
Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are naturally occurring components of freshwater and estuarine ecosystems. While algae and cyanobacteria provide aquatic communities with many benefits, as the old saying goes, “everything in moderation.” Under certain conditions, these organisms can grow rapidly causing “blooms.” Blooms become problematic because algae and cyanobacteria also produce harmful compounds, such as cyanotoxins and aroma compounds, which pose serious and even fatal health risks to humans and animals. When blooms threaten human and environmental health, they are referred to as harmful algal blooms (HABs).
In the case of the recent dog deaths, the dogs likely ingested these cyanotoxins by drinking the contaminated water or licking their coats after swimming. The effects on canines are sudden and the symptoms include loss of appetite, loss of energy, vomiting, stumbling and falling, foaming at the mouth, diarrhea, convulsions, excessive drooling, tremors and seizures. It can take hours or even minutes for the toxins to take hold, according to a Water Board spokesperson.
Now that we have reached the hottest part of the year, harmful algal blooms are on the rise. Tips to stay safe around potentially impacted water sources include observing posted warning signs; never drinking or cooking with water from the source; washing yourself, family members, and pets with clean water immediately after contact with the water source; and reporting suspected harmful algal blooms (CyanoHAB.Reports@waterboards.ca.gov).
The US EPA included nine cyanotoxins in the fourth round of its Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 4), in addition to a total microcystin test. The cyanotoxin chemical contaminants listed are: microcystin-LA, microcystin-LF, microcystin-LR, microcystin-LY, microcystin-RR, microcystin-YR, nodularin, anatoxin-a, and cylindrospermopsin. Babcock Laboratories is fully accredited to perform all UCMR 4 analyses, including these cyanotoxin chemical contaminants which require EPA Methods 546 (ELISA), 544, and 545.