Have you ever walked near a lake, river, or pond and either noticed a pungent odor or a green paint-like appearance on top of the water? That could be a strong indication the water contains a harmful algal bloom (HAB). These can be common in freshwater sources in Kansas during the summer months where blue-green algae thrive. When this algae becomes stressed, as it is an organism that lives in the water, or dies, it produces and releases toxins that can be harmful to both humans and animals that come into contact with this contaminated water source. When the algae is dense, it is known as an algae bloom.
Another type of harmful algae bloom that you may have heard of before is red tide. This is common in areas around the Gulf of Mexico and can be a respiratory irritant when large blooms are present. Exposure to these toxic blooms can result in harmful impacts to our organs, nervous system and skin. If you have been exposed to a harmful algal bloom, you could experience symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, as well as skin, respiratory or eye irritations that require seeking medical attention. Unfortunately, if left untreated to high levels of exposure, these blooms can be deadly to both humans and animals. The summer heat and calm water sources make the perfect grounds to breed blue-green algae.
Blue-green algae has a distinct look on the surface of water. You can tell that it may be present if the water has a scummy or foamy appearance. The algae will look either blue or green in appearance as if paint has spilled on top of the water.
If it looks more prevalent, then it is best to avoid the water altogether as the risk of being exposed to this toxic algae is high. If the water has a vividly green appearance, the water source is likely dominated by blue-green algae and you may see chunks of algae floating. The water will likely have a pronounced stench that is emitting from it.
Watches, Warnings or Hazards can be issued for water sources by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). Counties highlighted in orange have either Watches or Warnings that have been issued for local lakes, reservoirs or ponds as of August 12th.
Signs must be posted at these locations where harmful algal blooms are occurring to deter folks and their pets from entering the water. Recreational sports and swimming should be avoided. Livestock and pets should not drink nor bathe in water where these blooms are present.
If you notice these toxic blooms in other water sources that have not been previously reported, you can submit a report to the KDHE so that samples can be taken and tested so warning signs can be put into place.
Toasty days in early August have led to additional blooms. Knowing what this algae looks like is important so that you can protect yourself, friends and family, as well as pets and livestock from potentially harmful toxins.
— Meteorologist Erika Paige