As if we haven’t had enough advisories and warnings about what we should or shouldn’t do to keep ourselves safe from getting sick now we have another thing to deal with. The summer season has been with us a while now and it has gotten quite hot. Actually way too hot for my taste. That brings up the new issue of blue-green algae. What is it and why should you care? First things first. According to Dictionary.com “algae are any of numerous groups of chlorophyll-containing, mainly aquatic eukaryotic organisms ranging from microscopic single-celled forms to multicellular forms 100 feet (30 meters) or more long, distinguished from plants by the absence of true roots, stems, and leaves and by a lack of non-reproductive cells in the reproductive structures: classified into six phyla Euglenophyta, Crysophyta, Pyrrophyta, Chlorophyta, Phaeophyta, and Rhodophyta. Blue-green algae are defined as “a widely distributed group of predominantly photosynthetic prokaryotic organisms of the subkingdom Cyanophyta, resembling phototrophic bacteria, occurring singly or in colonies in diverse habitats: some species can fix atmospheric nitrogen.” it is also called Cyanobacteria.
The Oregon Health Authority gives a much simpler definition of algae for those of us who aren’t plant biologists. They say “algae are microscopic plants that grow naturally in oceans and fresh water. Under certain conditions, some algae can grow into a large visible mass called a bloom.” The blue-green is one of the algae that produces toxins (poisons) that can cause serious illness or death in humans and even pets, wildlife, and livestock.
Here is the first advisory issued this summer season on July 22nd.
“THE OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY HAS ISSUED A RECREATIONAL USE HEALTH ADVISORY FOR ODELL LAKE IN KLAMATH COUNTY DUE TO THE PRESENCE OF CYANOBACTERIA (HARMFUL ALGAE) BLOOM THAT HISTORICALLY PRODUCES CYANOTOXINS (HARMFUL ALGAE TOXINS) ABOVE RECREATIONAL GUIDELINE VALUES FOR HUMAN EXPOSURE. UNTIL THE ADVISORY IS LIFTED PEOPLE SHOULD AVOID SWIMMING AND HIGH-SPEED WATER ACTIVITIES, SUCH AS WATER SKIING OR POWER BOATING, IN AREAS OF THE LAKE WHERE BLOOMS ARE IDENTIFIED. ALTHOUGH TOXINS ARE NOT ABSORBED THROUGH THE SKIN, PEOPLE WITH SKIN SENSITIVITIES MAY EXPERIENCE A PUFFY RED RASH. VISITING ODELL LAKE IS SAFE AS LONG AS ANY BOATING OR OTHER ACTIVITIES DO NOT CAUSE EXCESSIVE WATER SPRAY WHICH COULD LEAD TO INHALATION RISKS IF THERE IS EXCESSIVE WATER SPRAY.”
What does an algae bloom look like? Scientists describe blooms as looking like a scum or foam on the surface of the water that can appear in various colors such as white, brown, green, or in this case blue-green. Don’t let that fool you though because you can’t tell whether what appears to be an algae bloom is toxic or not just by looking at it. The water has to be tested to be sure. If the surface of a pond, lake, or reservoir looks suspicious to you (It doesn’t always look as green as the picture above.) it’s better to stay out of direct contact with the water.
You might remember in past summers there were some blue-green algae advisories throughout Western Oregon which included Walterville Pond, Dorena Reservoir, Dexter Reservoir, and Tenmile Lake in Coos County, and others. The one issued for Dexter Reservoir in 2013 could not have come at a worse time considering it was issued July 3rd. just one day before crowds of people gathered along the shore for a 4th of July celebration with entertainment, food, and fireworks.
Despite the advisory some folks did go into the water and I know I saw a couple of dogs frolicking and splashing near the shore. I don’t know if anyone got sick, but they were taking an unnecessary risk. Being near the water or even boating, as long as you don’t get a heavy spray of water hitting the boaters, is not a problem. You must have direct contact with contaminated water. “Skin irritation or rash is the most commonly reported health effect. Other symptoms range from diarrhea, cramps and vomiting to fainting, numbness, dizziness, tingling and paralysis. The most severe reactions occur when large amounts of water are swallowed. The chronic effects of long-term exposure to algae toxins are being studied.”
If you enjoy a picnic, camping, or boating near area lakes and reservoirs you should make sure the water is not going to harm you, your family, or your pets. Don’t forget to practice social distancing and wearing a mask when that isn’t possible. I will post the advisories when they are issued within the “Advisories” section of my weather forecasts here on EDN, but if you would like to be notified personally when algae bloom advisories are issued just email your request to [email protected] and they may be able to put you on their email advisory list.
Just remember that these blooms should not interfere with your summer outdoor activities as long as you pay attention to the advisories and do what is recommended. If you are not sure the water is safe stay away from it.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].