Recently, several lakes in Utah were closed due to the discovery of a large algal bloom. When samples were taken and tested in a lab, a large number of cells were found that have the potential to produce cyanobacteria.
Since then, some of the bodies of water have been re-opened, but we thought this was the perfect opportunity to talk about cyanobacteria. Many people aren’t sure what it is, why it has the potential to be dangerous, and why it affects our freshwater sources.
What is Cyanobacteria?
Cyanobacteria, as the name suggests, is a blue-green algae that is relatively common in coastal states. However, it can also be found in non-coastal areas… like Utah. While not all types of cyanobacteria are toxic, some of the more common types are and can be dangerous to animals and organisms living in the water, as well as humans who come in contact with it.
How are Cyanobacteria Formed?
This type of bacteria forms very rapidly in still water, especially during warmer months. When nitrogen levels are higher, it can also lead to an overproduction of cyanobacteria.
How Can Cyanobacteria Impact Humans?
Contact with toxic cyanobacteria can cause gastrointestinal distress, skin rashes and/or blisters, and headaches in humans. The most common way to be exposed to toxic cyanobacteria is to swim in water that is infested, but shellfish from these water sources can also cause these same issues if consumed. In general, the severity of the symptoms directly correlates to the level of toxins and the length of exposure, although it is suspected that some people may be more sensitive to toxic types of cyanobacteria than others.
Tips for Staying Safe
Always follow advisories and warnings regarding cyanobacteria. Avoid swimming in water that is under warning or closed, and especially avoid ingesting the water. The same goes for your pets! It is very common for dogs to get sick after drinking water from contaminated water sources.
What Can We Do?
Many of the preventative measures fall on the shoulders of local and statewide coalitions, there are things individuals can all do to help keep toxic cyanobacteria at bay: