Toxic algae poses danger on local lakes

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Harmful algae blooms can look like mats, foam or surface scum, ranging in color from blue and bright green to brown and red. Some blooms produce a foul odor. Pictured: Fernan Lake, June 2013. Courtesy photo.

Three dogs in Wilmington. N.C., and another in Allatoona, Ga., died from liver failure last weekend after coming into contact with dangerous blue-green algae.

Closer to home, health advisories for Fernan Lake and Lower Twin Lake remain in effect after water-quality monitoring confirmed the presence of cyanobacteria, also known as harmful algae bloom. Contact with these blooms can be dangerous to humans and animals.

What is toxic algae?

Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic bacteria that occur naturally in Idaho’s lakes and rivers. Environmental conditions can allow cyanobacteria to “bloom” to high enough numbers that harmful toxins are produced, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

What does toxic algae look like?

Harmful algae blooms often present in discolored water, ranging from blue and bright green to red, brown or white. Some blooms smell bad. Toxic algae may appear as streaks or globs of scum and cause thick green mats along lake shorelines. Blooms may look like pollen, grass clippings, spilled paint, foam or dense surface scum. Health experts advise people and pets avoid contact with water whenever the surface has green or blue-green scums.

How do I know if I have been exposed?

Swimming and other activities in affected water are not recommended. However, if contact with contaminated water occurs, remove any affected clothing and wash thoroughly with clean water.

Exposure to toxins is most likely through skin contact, ingestion or inhalation. Symptoms include rashes, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, and/or wheezing. More severe symptoms affecting the liver, kidneys and nervous system may result from ingestion of water.

How can I keep my pets safe?

Harmful algae blooms produce toxins that can kill or sicken animals. Do not allow pets to swim in or drink from any water that may have a bloom. Avoid discolored water, as well as water that’s slimy or looks like foam.

Thoroughly clean or throw away any pet toys that were exposed to the bloom.

Pets can ingest harmful toxins from licking their fur after swimming in water that contains cyanobacteria. If pets come into contact with a harmful bloom, rinse them off immediately with clean, fresh water.

How do I know if my pet has been exposed?

Symptoms of toxic algae exposure can arise anywhere from 15 minutes to several days after contact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Take pets to the vet immediately if they suffer from diarrhea or vomiting, weakness or staggering, drooling, difficulty breathing or convulsions.

Can I eat fish from the affected areas?

People who choose to eat fish caught in contaminated water should clean and wash the fish thoroughly in clean water. Any organs should be disposed of before consumption. Remove all fat, skin and organs before consuming the fish, because toxins are more likely to collect in those tissues.

Information about current blooms and related health advisories is posted at www.deq.idaho.gov/water-quality/surface-water/blue-green-algae.

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