Dangers of algae blooms and when we might see them

DUNKIRK, N.Y. (WIVB) —On a hot summer day in western New York a lot of you may head to the beach. The next few weeks, the water in the lakes may see some algae form.

Your fish tank may be a few days overdue on a cleaning, so you start to see green scum growing on the side-that’s algae. There’s many different types and the type you see most commonly isn’t harmful, but some growing in our lakes is. That type is referred to as blue green algae. Assistant professor of Biology at SUNY Fredonia, Courtney Wigdahl Perry, explained what this blue green algae looks like. She said, “If you see one on a lake, often times you’ll see them on the surface. They look kind of scummy or like a pea soup color. They’ll often be bright green bust sometimes they turn different colors.”

This type of algae is most common from mid-July through early fall. Part of the reason for that is warm lake waters. Wigdahl- Perry said, “There’s a couple of factors that contribute. Nutrients, temperature, light, and how much the water is mixing.”

When all of those factors combine, the result can be toxic. She said, “When a group of algae grows really rapidly in the end of summer, these are called harmful algae blooms because they can create issues with people’s usage of that water. That includes drinking water and recreational use on the lake.”

That is exactly what happened in Toledo Oho, located on the farthest western side of Lake Erie in 2014. Water supply was temporarily shut down. That however is unlikely to happen in Buffalo because of the depth of the lake here. Wigdahl- Perry said, “When you move across the basin from west to east it gets deeper. So when you have deeper waters you tend to have deeper algae blooms that occur in this area.”

And although the eastern edge of Lake Erie doesn’t often see this happen, other smaller lakes in the area do. If you happen to see this toxic algae, it’s important not to touch it. She shared with News 4, “The most common thing that will happen if you touch water that has algae in it is you will get a rash. It will be uncomfortable but not deadly.”

And the effects can be felt in pets and livestock too, especially after a swim in affected water. Wigdahl-Perry said, “They ingest a lot of it as a result of cleaning themselves off, so there have been deaths of livestock in pets, when they consume high concentrations of these blooms.”

For more information on this toxic algae click here.

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