Get Out of the Water

Sw Rs Blog

Last month, I wrote about this year’s toxic algae overgrowths in Lake Erie, the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi, but in the weeks since then, it’s only gotten worse. The result of excessive nutrient loads from agricultural runoff and sewage discharge, high summer temperatures, and particularly heavy spring rainfall, the annual overgrowth of cyanobacteria around the country is never good news. This year, the bad news just keeps coming.  

Toxic algae blooms are all over the country. Just west of Vancouver, WA, the public has been warned to avoid contact with the waters of Vancouver Lake due to an overgrowth of cyanobacteria. Last week, the New York Times reported that the State of New Jersey had issued a warning that most the water in Lake Hopatcong, the largest lake in the state, was unsafe (although the advisory has since been lifted for six of the lake’s beaches). 

In humans, algae blooms “can cause health risks if ingested, inhaled or touched. Inhaled toxins can cause wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, according to public health officials. Skin contact can lead to rash, itching, blisters and eye irritation. Swallowing the high-toxin water can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness,” wrote The Oregonian when first reporting on the overgrowth in Vancouver Lake. But for your dog, toxic algae poses a more serious risk. 

Dogs are often more susceptible to the effects of cyanobacteria because they are more likely to ingest the algae. They might eat something they find on the beach, or simply pick up a stick from the shoreline. They could drink lake water intentionally, or accidentally ingest contaminated water while swimming. For Fido, the consequences of ingesting toxic algae are severe and swift. Five dogs—three from one home North Carolina, one from Texas, and another from Georgia—all died this month after contact with algal toxins, according to another article from The New York Times. 

It’s relatively easy for humans to avoid contact with water contaminated by cyanobacteria, although it could be a heavy financial burden if your livelihood relies on, say, fishing or tourism on an affected body of water. It’s hard, though, to protect dogs, who may jump off a boat or dock without knowing any better. And for the creatures who live in the lakes and oceans affected by algae blooms, there is no escape. Dolphins, turtles, and possibly even a whale shark, have all died as a result of the algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico this year. For marine life, there’s no escape.  

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