Algal Toxins in Water Supplies: It won’t happen here… or… will it?

19 August 2014

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the incident in Toledo (Ohio) that caused many to padlock (figuratively) their taps and take to their computers about the topic of algal toxins.  An article of a couple of days ago speculates whether water supplies in the Philadelphia area are even likely to produce toxic blue-green algal blooms. Based on experience I would hesitate to make such a sweeping statement.  Here are just three examples of why I say this: Read more »

Toxic algae in Ohio leaves thousands without water

4 August 2014

Sales of bottled water have soared in Toledo (Ohio) USA as algal toxins persist in the drinking water supply.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency for Lucas, Wood and Fulton counties and deployed the National Guard to make water available to the area.

Water from this area comes from the massive Lake Erie, long infamous for algal blooms and toxins.  A couple of years ago Droplets reported on an article entitled Lake Erie on Death Watch!  Lake Erie, once a lake management success story, has regressed in recent years, with an increasing incidence of toxic algal blooms threatening millions of water users. Read more »

USA House of Representatives approves Harmful Algal Blooms Act

12 June 2014

Algal blooms impact on marine and freshwater resources worldwide (Photo: Bill Harding)

Algal blooms impact on marine and freshwater resources worldwide (Photo: Bill Harding)

Good news for research and management of noxious algae in the United States!  This week the US House of Representatives passed Bill S. 1254, which “reauthorizes the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.  Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when colonies of algae grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. The bill maintains and enhances an interagency program led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will be responsible for promoting a national strategy to help communities understand, predict, control and mitigate freshwater and marine HAB and hypoxia events; enhancing, coordinating, and assessing the activities of existing HABs and hypoxia programs; providing for development of a comprehensive research plan and action strategy, including a regional approach to understanding and responding to HAB events; and requiring an assessment and plan for Great Lakes HABs and hypoxia”. Read more »

US Bill to tackle algal blooms has very low chance of being enacted

24 February 2014

Paint-like patterns formed by blue-green algae (Photo: Bill Harding)

Paint-like patterns formed by blue-green algae (Photo: Bill Harding)

US Senate Bill S1254, introduced on June 27th, 2013, was passed in the Senate on 12 February 2014 and now goes to the House of Representatives for enactment consideration.  The chances of this happening are considered to be low, in fact just 14%.  Apparently only 23% of bills that passed committee in 2011-2013 were enacted.

The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act would expand a federal task force, require it to create a program to study the problem and an action plan to address it. The task force also would study the causes of hypoxia, or the depletion of oxygen in water. One cause of hypoxia is mass die-off of blue-green algae [Source]. Read more »

Algae and Motor Neuron Disease: Diatoms complicate the picture

30 January 2014

Diatoms - a new source of BMAA (Photo: Bill Harding)

Diatoms – a new source of BMAA (Photo: Bill Harding)

Until now we have believed that the production of beta-methyl amino alanine (BMAA), thought to be implicated with neurodegenerative brain disorders (ALS-PDC), was limited to the blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria). Since 2004 we have learnt that all species of cyanobacteria, or almost all, produce this toxic amino acid.  This finding, backed by some early research, suggested that environmental exposure to lakes or reservoirs containing cyanobacteria, or drinking water derived therefrom, may be a cause for this debilitating complex of diseases.

That was until this month (January 2014).

Beta-methyl amino alanine

Beta-methyl amino alanine

A group of researchers have demonstrated that various species of diatoms, the most prolific group of algae on the planet, also produce BMAA.  If the production of BMAA is more widely spread across the diatom genera then this finding significantly alters the level of risk of exposure thereto.  The work also demonstrates that higher organisms, eukaryotes, can produce BMAA.

Jiang and co-authors conclude, inter alia,  that:

Taken together, the data reported here give a clear answer supported by solid evidence that BMAA is not exclusively produced by cyanobacteria. As diatoms are a major bloom- forming phytoplankton in aquatic environments, the impact of this discovery suggests new bioaccumulation routes and that the risk of human exposure may have increased tremendously. 

(search this blog for several other articles on BMAA)

Be prepared for seasonal blue-green algal blooms

24 December 2013

Blue-green algal blooms are seasonally-common right now!  (Photo: Bill Harding)

Blue-green algal blooms are seasonally-common right now! (Photo: Bill Harding)

It’s that time of year in South Africa again – temperatures have warmed up and so have nutrient-enriched dams and ponds.  Many have developed algal blooms that could be toxic, so beware!

Droplets contains lots of useful information about blue-green algae and their toxins.  In the USA, the Centre for Disease Control has produced a very useful facts sheet that provides all the essential background.  South Africa does not have any resources focussed on algal blooms (!) or where to get help should one develop problems after being in contact with toxic algae.  DH Environmental Consulting can be approached for guidance and we have ability for rapid on-site toxin testing and algal identification.  Algal blooms pose a threat  to humans, pets and livestock.  They should not be underestimated.

We will shortly be releasing an App that will enable users to send us details of algal blooms they come across so that we can build a geographic database of bloom occurrence.  In the meantime you are welcome to email us information and photographs of what you saw, to

Merry Xmas!

Blue crabs affected by blue-green algae – and other stories

18 August 2013

Woman collecting mussels at low tide.  Photo: Bill Harding

Women collecting mussels at low tide. Photo: Bill Harding

An article from from Richmond (Virginia, USA) reports that the cyanobacterial liver toxin, microcystin, has been found in blue crabs near the mouth of the James River. According to the report, there is no cause for concern right now.  Fish, filter feeders and, it seems, crabs, can accumulate cyanobacterial toxins in their flesh.  Some years ago I was involved with a South African case where mussels, which formed an important component of the diet or income source for a poor community, were affected by an algal bloom in the lake upstream of the estuary. For interest I have included chromatograms from my analyses of two liver toxins, microcystin-LR and -YR in the algae and in the mussels.

Chromatograms showing accumulation of the cyanotoxins M-LR and M-YR in the flesh of marine mussels (Photo: Bill Harding)

Chromatograms showing accumulation of the cyanotoxins M-LR and M-YR in the flesh of marine mussels (Photo: Bill Harding)

Read more »

Blue-green algae get the blame for simply being green

18 August 2013

It must be horribly disconcerting to be erroneously selected out of a police line-up – if you are just there as a ‘filler’.  I wonder if algae and some water plants feel the same way about being identified as being “blue-greens” (= cyanobacteria)?

There have been two sets of press reports this week that have identified, incorrectly, algae and plants as blue-green algae.  While this is often an easy mistake to make, the knock-on effects can be substantial as the public may subsequently make the same mistake.  The first article I will deal with appear in the MailOnline and showed a series of great photos, none of which included blue-green algae.  Rather, the green covering on the water is due to a member of the harmless duckweed family (genus Lemna).  The identification clue is that the green stuff is floating ON the water, not in it.  The second image from the same article shows this more clearly.  Gratifyingly, I noted that a number of the comments submitted had noted that this was indeed not algae.

While we cannot expect the press to be scientifically-correct, we can reasonably expect them to do their homework.  Toxic algae in water resources is a very important issue and there is little leeway for misinformation.

Read more »

Algal toxins kill dog at California’s Konocti Bay (Clear Lake)

16 August 2013

Seems that Clear Lake is not so clear right now, in fact a tad turbid with algae.   If its owners had been better informed they might have been aware of the risks of letting your dog go into green, soupy water.

Lake County officials said they have confirmed elevated levels of algae-related toxins in samples of Konocti Bay water taken following the death of a dog that fell ill after swimming in the bay.  The microcystins found are associated with certain types of blue-green algae.  A dog visiting Clear Lake with its owners became severely ill the first week of August and had to be euthanized, health officials said. The dog had played fetch in water where there had been thick algal blooms. Read more »

CyanoAlert winds to a close…

28 July 2013

In three days time the CyanoAlert service on this blog will come to an end after more than two years of reporting!  As we said at the outset, the purpose of CyanoAlert was to raise local awareness about nutrient enrichment in lakes, rivers and ponds and the threat of excessive and possibly toxic algal growth in such waters.  CyanoAlert has tracked how various countries address the problem, in particular the manner in which they report incidents in the press – and the various allied debates and issues.  From the responses received the original intentions have been met but – unfortunately – our sponsorship for the newsfeed service that we use has come to an end.

So,now to today’s reports: Read more »