It is not only the world’s oceans that are being taken over by harmful algae blooms, many rivers and lakes are also falling victim to this green toxic killer.
This past Friday (July 15, 2016), state officials closed Utah Lake after test results confirmed that a massive algae bloom that now covers approximately 90% of the lake poses “serious health risks” to humans.
Tests by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality show that the concentration of toxic algae in the lake is three times the threshold for closing a body of water.
This is the first time in history that Utah Lake has been closed.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality said the initial water tests revealed the algae bloom is almost entirely comprised of a species of toxin-producing cyanobacteria. The main toxins it produces are known as cyanotoxins.
According to Dr. Joseph Miner, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Health, “These types of algae release neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, that can affect brain, nervous system, and liver function.”
“Water with these levels of concentration in the algal bloom pose serious health risks,” says Ralph Clegg, Executive Director of UCHD. “To protect the health of people and animals that use the lake, it is necessary for the lake to remain closed until it is safe for recreation.”
100 people may have already become ill from the toxic waters since July 10, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
By early afternoon yesterday, the Utah Poison Control Center had received over 100 calls from individuals exposed to the bloom. A number of callers reported symptoms consistent with cyanotoxin exposure, including vomiting, diarrhea, fever, skin and eye irritation, and rashes. No definitive link has been made yet between these symptoms and the bloom.
Here is a visual chart from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showing just how dangerous these toxins are to humans.
One mother even reported that her son woke up with a rash covering 80% of his body after swimming in the lake, according to the Daily Herald.
“While algae may not always be visible on the lake, the threat to human and animal health can still be present. Toxins can persist in the water for several days after algae dissipate.” said Erica Gaddis, Assistant Water Quality Director for DEQ. “One of the ways we protect the health of people and animals is by testing water for the presence of toxin producing algal species.”
Here are some aerial photos of Utah Lake revealing just how bad this algae bloom is.
“Cyanobacteria refer to a group of microorganisms that possess characteristics of algae (chlorophyll-a and oxygenic photosynthesis). They are found in fresh, estuarine, and marine waters in the U.S. Cyanobacteria are often confused with filamentous green algae, because both can produce dense mats that can impede activities like swimming and fishing, and may cause odor problems and oxygen depletion; however, unlike cyanobacteria, filamentous algae are not generally thought to produce toxins. Freshwater cyanobacterial blooms that produce highly potent cyanotoxins are known as cyanobacterial HABs (cyanoHABs). However, some cyanobacteria species are capable to release toxins into the water without cell rupture or death.
Freshwater cyanobacterial blooms may be dominated by a single-species or composed of a variety of toxic and non-toxic strains (i.e., a specific genetic subgroup within a particular species). Cyanotoxins are produced and contained within the actively growing cyanobacterial cells (i.e., intracellular toxins). The release of these toxins in an algal bloom into the surrounding water as dissolved (extracellular) toxins occurs mostly during cell death and lysis (i.e., cell rupture) as opposed to the continuous excretion from the cells.
Cyanotoxins can affect the liver (hepatotoxic), the nervous system (neurotoxic) and the skin (acutely dermatotoxic); however, hepatotoxic freshwater blooms of cyanobacteria are more commonly found than neurotoxic blooms throughout the world.”
If you have taken fish from the Lake since July 10, 2016, state officials recommend against eating the fish. Fishing in river areas near Utah Lake is not recommended until further notice.
For concerns about possible human exposure, call Utah Poison Control at 800-222-1222, or your physician. For concerns about possible animal exposure, contact a local veterinarian. For concerns about possible livestock exposure, contact Utah Department of Agriculture and Food at 801-538-7100. We are asking health officials of both human and animal who hear of possible symptoms from the Utah Lake algal bloom to contact the Utah Poison Control hotline.
Here are the latest test results from the lake: