Monday, August 19, 2019

Toxic Algae Blooms found in Virginia

This month the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that the toxic algae responsible for several dog deaths in southeast has been found in Virginia. The dogs had been swimming and or drinking from ponds that were infested with blue green algae and died of liver failure. Now that toxic algae has been found in several locations in Virginia.

Toxic blue green algae has been found in the Upper and Middle Pamunkey Branches as well as the Upper and Middle North Anna Branches of Lake Anna in Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties. The VDH announced that these areas are “experiencing a harmful algal bloom (HAB) and advised the public to avoid contact with the lake in these areas until algae concentrations return to acceptable levels. Other areas of Virginia have reported non-toxic algae blooms and several crowd sourced reports of algae of green scum have been reported in recent days.

Algae blooms also called harmful algal bloom (HAB) or dead zones form in summers when higher temperatures reduce the oxygen holding capacity of the water, the air is still and especially in years of heavy rains that carry excess nutrient pollution from cities, suburban lawns and farms. The excess nutrient pollution combined with mild weather encourages the explosive growth of algae fed by excessive nutrient pollution.

Not all algal blooms are toxic or hazardous. Only certain species of blue-green algae form the toxin, for reasons that aren't fully understood. Toxic bacteria were not a problem until the 21st century, though algae blooms have been a problem on Lake Erie, the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay and other areas for over half a century. Only algae that contains microcystine or cyanobacteria, a toxin produced by microcystis, a type of blue-green algae that spreads in the summer algae bloom are hazardous.

In the 21st century toxic or hazardous algal blooms have become a global concern in lakes, rivers and oceans. They occur when algae grow out of control when there are favorable environmental conditions. Hazardous algal blooms, the ones that contain microcystis a type of blue-green algae produce Microcystine or cyanobacteria toxins, that can lead to the poisoning of fish, shellfish, birds, livestock, domestic pets and other aquatic organisms that can lead to human health impact from eating fish or shellfish exposed to toxins as well as drinking water contaminated by toxins.
Virginia Tech Extension and the Virginia Department of Health advise:
  •         Avoid contact with any area of a lake or pond where water is green or an advisory sign is posted. WHEN IN DOUBT, STAY OUT!
  •         Waters that are discolored or have foam, scums or mats that are green or blueish-green should be avoided because they likely contain toxins.  Harmful algae can also be brown or red, and can resemble paint floating on the water.  Toxic algae can stink, smelling nauseating to people, but can be attractive to animals like dogs.
  •         Do not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water.
  •         Keep children and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algae bloom and quickly wash them off with plenty of fresh, clean water after coming into contact with algae scum or bloom water.
  •         If you, your kids or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom, seek immediate medical/veterinarian care.
  •         Symptoms: Human contact with HABs can cause rashes, stomach upset, diarrhea and vomiting.  Dogs can show symptoms including staggering, drooling, breathing difficulty, convulsions or seizures.
  •         To ensure fish fillets are safe to eat, properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature.
  •         If you suspect you experienced health-related effects following exposure to a bloom, contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 1-888-238-6154.

To learn more about harmful algae blooms, see the map, or to report an algae bloom or fish kill visit

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