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Beware toxic blue-green algae

Heat and drought make this problem worse. Your pond could be deadly to livestock.
Algae bloom. Photo courtesy of Clemson University

Searing heat causes a host of problems for landowners, including the threat of toxic cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, on lakes and ponds.

“Blue-green algae can sicken or kill livestock and other animals, and also poses a threat to humans,” said Kansas State University research assistant professor in agronomy, Carol Blocksome.

Despite the name, blue-green algae are actually types of bacteria known as Cyanobacteria. When certain conditions are present, such as high nutrient and light levels, these organisms can reproduce rapidly. This dense growth of algae is called a bloom. Some of these blooms are harmless, but when the blooming organisms contain toxins or pathogens, it is known as a harmful algal bloom.

Some algae blooms can look like foam, or a thick slurry. The blooms can be blue, bright green, brown, or red and may look like paint floating on the water. Some blooms may not affect the appearance of the water.

Some blue-green algae produce toxins that pose a health risk to people and animals when swallowed, inhaled, or through contact with the skin. Usually exposure produces allergic-type reactions, such as intestinal problems, respiratory problems, or skin irritations.

If blue-green algae are suspected, a water sample should be collected and sent to a diagnostic laboratory.

•    Take a sample where the algae is more likely to be present, such as the downwind side of a pond, and shallow areas that are warmer.

•    Choose a clean container with a wide mouth. Rinse out the container with the pond water. Label the outside with the date and location.

•    Scoop the water from the surface along with the scum. Be careful not to come into contact with the water by using a cup attached to a long stick, or by using gloves.

•    Secure the lid, and put the sample into a plastic bag. Put the sample into a cooler with an ice pack, but don't freeze.

•    Place the sample in a refrigerator, and then mail it by overnight express to the lab of choice.
More information about blue-green algae is available also on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment website http://www.kdheks.gov/algae-illness/index.htm

 

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