Plunging into the ocean or a lake is one of the great joys of summer. But arriving at the beach to find water that’s green, red, or brown and possibly foul-smelling can instantly spoil the party.
Toxins produced during these blooms have been implicated in human and animal illnesses in at least 43 states.
Scientists have estimated that in the U.S. alone, freshwater HABs cause more than US $4.6 billion in damage yearly. Here’s what to know about them if you’re bound for the water’s edge this summer.
Algae and cyanobacteria are simple, plant-like organisms that live in water. They can grow out of control, or "bloom," especially when the water is warm and slow-moving.
Climate change is making water bodies warmer, increasing the risk of HABs. The other major factor that drives blooms is high levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which fertilize algae.
There are numerous HAB toxins, including substances such as microcystin, saxitoxin, cylindrospermopsin, anatoxin-A, and domoic acid. Each has a different action on the body, so HABs can have diverse harmful effects.
If you are notified of a bloom in a nearby body of water or in your public drinking water supply, the most important thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick is to follow local guidance.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides resources and recommendations related to HABs and ways to stay safe. Pet owners should also learn how to protect their dogs from HABs.