State warns of hazardous algae on lakes, streams

News-DemocratJuly 23, 2013 

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The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has noted harmful algae in lakes and streams across the state.

"With so many people enjoying the summer on the water, everyone needs to know what to look for to avoid algal blooms," said Director Lisa Bonnett. "It's important to be cautious and report blooms and not risk exposure that could harm yourself or animals."

In an effort to protect the public from the dangers of algal blooms, the agency has launched a website, www.epa.state.il.us/water/algal-bloom/index.html, with information about how to spot blooms, who to contact with a problem and what can be done to protect yourself and others.

What are algal blooms?

Algal blooms are made of dense groups of blue-green algae which are naturally occurring microscopic organisms. They are frequently found in and grow well in shallow bodies of water like lakes and streams that get a lot of sunshine. Its strong color can often make it look like the water is painted pea-green or blue-green, or a reddish-brown. It may also appear with scum or foam on the water surface.

How can they be harmful?

While not always a danger, blue-green algal blooms are capable of producing toxins that could harm the health of humans and animals when they've been exposed to large enough quantities. Exposure can come from recreational pursuits like swimming, boating, tubing and other activities where you come into contact with or could swallow the water.

The most common kind of algal toxin found in Illinois is microcystin, which can cause rashes, asthma-like symptoms, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, liver damage or severe neurotoxicity depending on the length and level of exposure.

What precautions should be taken?

Don't swim, water ski, or boat in areas where the water is discolored or if there is foam, scum or mats of algae on the water. If you come in contact with water that might have a harmful algal bloom, rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible. Don't let pets or livestock swim in or drink from areas where water is discolored, or if there is foam, scum or mats of algae on the water. Don't let pets (especially dogs) lick the algae off their fur after swimming in water with an algal scum. Don't irrigate lawns or golf courses with pond water that looks or has a bad odor.

Don't drink the water. Boiling the water will not make it safe to drink.

You can report the bloom to IEPA by taking photographs of the bloom, filling out a Bloom Report form available on the website, and emailing both to IEPA at EPA.HAB@illinois.gov. IEPA will work with local authorities on a case by case basis to appropriately handle the situation. One potential remedy is to close the lake to the public until the algae concentrations go down.

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