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Harmful Algal Blooms: Protect Yourself
How can I recognize a harmful algal bloom?
When in doubt, stay out. The Utah Department of Health website and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation website both have photos that can help you distinguish between green algae blooms and cyanobacteria blooms. In general, it’s best to avoid areas that appear to be experiencing an algal bloom.
What should I do if I see a harmful algal bloom?
The best way to protect yourself and your pets is to stay out of the water and avoid any contact with water or scums.
Water experiencing an algal bloom may look like pea soup, green or blue paint, or have a scum layer or mats/foam floating on the surface. The water may also appear in shades of green, blue-green, yellow, brown, or red.
If you see these conditions, please contact your local health department (LHD)—See “Contact” tab for specific information.
The following recommendations can help keep you, your family, and your pets safe from algal toxins:
- Don’t swim in water that has an algal bloom.
- Don’t boat, waterski, or jet-ski on scummy water. These activities causing the toxins to become airborne, increasing the likelihood that you will breathe them in.
- Don’t let children play with scum in the water or along the shore.
- Don’t let pets or livestock swim in or drink from scummy waters.
- Always take a shower after coming into contact with any surface water whether or not an algal bloom appears to be present. Rinse animals immediately if they swim in scummy water and don’t let them lick their fur.
- Wash dishes with bottled water. Do not use water from areas with algal blooms.
- Do not boil water in an attempt to remove toxins; boiling water actually releases more toxins.
- Never drink untreated surface water, whether or not algae blooms are present. Untreated surface water may contain other bacteria, parasites or viruses, as well as algal toxins, that all could cause illness if consumed.
- If your drinking water does not come from a public water supply, don’t drink surface water, even if it is treated, during an algal bloom. In-home treatments such as boiling or disinfecting water with chlorine or ultraviolet (UV) or water filtration units do not protect people from blue-green algal toxins.
- Stop using the water and seek medical attention if needed if symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, skin, eye or throat irritation, allergic reactions or breathing difficulties occur while in contact with untreated surface waters.
How can I tell if I’ve been exposed?
Contact your physician or the Utah Poison Control Center (800) 222-1222 if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Rashes, hives, or blisters (skin contact)
- Runny nose, sore throat, asthma, or allergic-like reactions (breathing in droplets from contaminated water)
- Vomiting and diarrhea, stomach pain, weakness, tingling, dizziness, or trouble breathing (swallowing contaminated water)
Animals may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
Animals can die within a few hours of exposure. Consult your veterinarian immediately if your pet comes into contact with a harmful algal bloom (HAB) either in the water or on shore.
What can I do to reduce harmful algal blooms?
Excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus in waterbodies lead to HABs. You can do your part to improve water quality by taking the following steps:
- Reduce the amount of fertilizer you use on your lawn.
- Use only phosphorus-free fertilizer when possible.
- Fix leaking septic systems.
- Use only phosphorus-free detergents in dishwashers.
- Keep yard debris such as leaves and grass clippings from washing into storm drains and waterways
- Pick up pet waste
Reducing nutrient loads to waters is the best way to limit the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. Learn more about DEQ’s Division of Water Quality efforts to reduce excess nutrients from entering our waterways on our website.
For more information, visit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Oregon Health Authority, Washington Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.