Blue-green algae can be dangerous for humans and pets

There are currently 6 Kansas lakes under a blue-green algae warning

July 06, 2018 - 4:44 am
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The Kansas Department of Health and Environment puts out blue-green algae warnings on a fairly regular basis during  the summer. What is the danger of blue-green algae? Veterinary toxicologist Steve Ensley with Kansas State says the danger is a specific type of cyanobacteria.

“The blue-green algae are actually a cyanobacteria that grow in the water,” said Ensley. “They’re present there all the time. It just takes the right combination of environmental conditions to allow a bloom to occur. Then, if the right population of the cyanobacteria are present and they bloom, then it can also produce a toxin.” 

Conditions typically associated with blue-green algae development include warm weather, lots of sunlight and the presence of nutrients in the water, which often are the result of agricultural runoff.

“There’s many different cyanobacteria,” said Ensley. “There’s a smaller population that actually produce toxins. We can either look at that population that can produce toxin, or we can actually look for the toxin in the water. Most of the time we look for the toxin. If the toxin is present at certain concentration, then I think those warnings are issued based on that.”

If a blue-green algae bloom occurs, then it looks like blue or green paint was spilled on the surface of non-moving water and depending on the precise cyanobacteria, ingesting of water containing them can be fatal for pets.

“One of the toxins that we work with, it actually has a name called fast death factor,” said Ensley. “If this toxin’s present in the water, if an animal even swims through the water, drinks some of the water, it can be associated with acute death in minutes.”

The problem is, without testing, you can’t know whether an individual bloom has that type of cyanobacteria or others, so it’s best to keep pets and people away from the water when blue-green algae is present.

6 lakes and ponds in Kansas are currently under warnings for blue-green algae.  Atchison County Park Lake in Atchison County, Carbondale West Lake in Osage County, Clarion Woods Park Lake in Shawnee County, Melvern Outlet Pond and Melvern Outlet Swim Pond in Osage County, and Webster Lake in Rooks County.

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