Steer Clear of a Sheen of Green
June 15, 2016
Sarah Blount

…or blue, or brown, or red! Algal blooms come in many colors and can have serious negative health impacts on humans and animals by contaminating waterways and drinking supplies. A type of algae called blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, is the predominant culprit behind toxic algal blooms in freshwater systems. These bacteria produce cyanotoxins that can impact the liver, the nervous system, and the skin of those who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with them. Drinking, bathing, or swimming in contaminated waters can lead to an array of negative health impacts including blisters, fever, muscle and joint pain, paralysis, asthma, and allergic reactions such as rashes. In extreme cases, the deaths of wildlife and domestic animals have been reported in association with toxic algal blooms.

If you see a body of water with surface discoloration such as a red, green, or brown tint, especially if the water has a thick, mat-like accumulation of scum on the shoreline and surface coupled with an unpleasant smell, remember this tips:

  • Stay away from it. Do not use the water for swimming, boating, or fishing. Keep children and pets away as well.
  • If you accidentally come into contact with water you suspect is contaminated, immediately rinse off with clean, fresh water.
  • Do not attempt to kill the algae with algaecides yourself—by killing the algae, the cells are burst, which can release the toxins into the water. Allow professionals to determine if a chemical treatment is necessary.
  • If you think someone has been poisoned by a toxic algal bloom, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Report algal blooms to your state's department of health or environment. Find your state's contact information.