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Lake Erie's toxic algal bloom returns

Photo taken near Toledo, Ohio. Courtesy: NASA.

Photo taken near Toledo, Ohio. Courtesy: NASA.

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, July 7, 2016, 5:44 PM - The bad news? Lake Erie's toxic algal bloom has returned as a result of naturally-occurring cyanobacteria fueled into overdrive due to a combination of warm water, sunshine and nutrients that come from agricultural runoff, sewage and industry waste.

The good news is that this year's concentration is expected to be "less severe" than the record-setting bloom in 2015.

The 2016 annual outlook, published Thursday, forecasts the bloom will measure 5.5 on the severity index with a range between 3.0 and 7.0. The highest rating is a 10, and blooms above 5.0 are of concern.

Scientists say the lower forecast is due to smaller discharge from the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio and average runoff into the lake.

Blooms typically peak in August, when temperatures are at their warmest.

"While the NOAA forecast calls for a mild algae season on Lake Erie this summer due to an unseasonably dry spring, the news is not cause for celebration," a consortium of environmental groups said in a news release, according to the CBC.

"Nevertheless, it may provide some respite for the nearly 11 million people that receive drinking water from Lake Erie as well as those who boat, fish and recreate on the lake, all who have felt the impacts of several years of near-record breaking harmful, and at times toxic, algal blooms."

While "normally fairly harmless in lower concentrations, when these harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur, cyanobacteria pose a risk to aquatic life and human health," writes Weather Network science writer Scott Sutherland.

"As a bloom spreads throughout the surface layer of lake water, the cyanobacteria release toxins known as microcystins into the environment. Simply swimming in water with high concentrations of microcystins can cause ymptoms such as stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and weakness, as well as skin and eye irritation, sore throat and allergic reactions. If these toxins enter the drinking water supply in sufficient amounts, such as during extreme outbreaks, symptoms can develop that cause liver and kidney damage life-threatening bouts of gastroenteritis, aka "stomach flu" (especially for children and the elderly)."

Two counties in Florida were forced to declare a state of emergency ahead of the Independence Day long weekend due to an abundance of algal blooms in local waterways that shut down beaches and caused a significant drop in tourism.

Source: CBC


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