LAWRENCE (KSNT) – A group of academics, including a professor with the University of Kansas, are sounding the alarm bells on a toxic algae found in U.S. lakes.
A report published by KU on Oct. 23 details the work researchers conducted to investigate how human-driven climate change is leading to an increase in the risks of high concentrations of algal blooms in U.S. lakes. The investigation draws information from more than 2,800 lakes studied between 2007 and 2017 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Ted Harris, an assistant research professor with the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research at KU, was part of the team of researchers that completed the investigation. Other researchers included staff from the Carnegie Institution for Science and the University of Greenwich.
“We found toxic blue-green blooms thrive under climate change conditions and warmer temperatures, particularly in the optimal temperature range of 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, with the highest levels at about 22 degrees Celsius, or 72 degrees Fahrenheit,” Harris said. “It’s clear regions with a history of fewer toxic blooms are likely to experience an increase in such occurrences due to climate change. High-nutrient lakes, which serve as a fuel source for these blooms, are particularly vulnerable to this trend.”
The study details how lakes where toxic algal blooms are less common are likely to see an increase in the years to come due to climate change. In addition, nutrient-rich lakes are likely to see temperatures ideal for the growth of algae.
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) pose health risks to humans, livestock and pets. Dogs especially are at risk if they come into contact with water that contains high levels of algae as they can become sick or die.
“The negative effects of these toxins, particularly those affecting the liver, can lead to death, with rare cases of human fatalities,” Harris said. “However, more commonly, animals, especially dogs, are adversely affected. Blue-green algae differ from other algae as they can float due to small buoyant structures within them. This behavior causes them to be pushed downwind and accumulate near coasts, often where launching ramps are located, and where people take their dogs. This is also where toxin accumulation is more likely.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) regularly releases updates on how many Kansas lakes are being impacted by HABs and blue-green algae. Lakes can be classified under three categories depending on the severity of the algae in the water: watch, warning or hazard.
According to the KDHE, toxins emitted by an HAB can cause rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, sore throat and a headache. If you or a pet comes into contact with the algae, rinse the impacted area clean with fresh water. If you come into contact with an HAB, reach out to the KDHE by filing a report online here.