Blue-green algae

I have a great deal of respect for what these bacteria can do and in my opinion there isn’t much they can’t do and every time I read somewhere about a rule stating they can’t do this or that, later on after I’ve read a few more studies the rule has been broken so I’ve given up trying to figure out how these things can be stopped without a whole lot of effort and cost. I do believe that preventing them is much easier to do than trying to clean them up and get rid of them. The list below is in no particular order because I’ve run out of time and it was my attempt to shorten the information and make it succinct. I recommend you read the entire list a couple of times but you can also drill down for more information by clicking on the link provided. I was going to bold the important items but I ended up bolding everything so read it slowly and try to understand what I have tried to summarize to the best of my ability. There are lots of other articles on my blog and you can find most of them by searching for “cyanobacteria”. Click here to learn more about this mysterious bacteria and the document this list was based on.

  • Also known as Cyanobacteria, Harmful Algal Blooms, Algae, and Phytoplankton.
  • Ubiquitous in our environment.
  • Part of the Bacterial phyla division. Currently there are over 1123 different species, genuses, families, orders, and classes of Cyanobacteria with 60 assigned genera names.
  • Reported in Australian reservoirs with pristine or near-pristine watersheds, and toxic benthic cyanobacteria have killed cattle drinking from oligotrophic, high-alpine waters in Switzerland.
  • Naturally occurring in saltwater and freshwater.
  • Blooms can colour the water blue, majestic blue hue, bright green, dark green, olive, brown, red, or purplish and may look like paint floating on water. Some blooms may not affect the appearance of the water.
  • Are toxic in dry form and lead to significant toxin build up on foliage and the residue can affect livestock.
  • Look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of fresh water lakes and ponds.
  • Can have taste and odour problems but they can also occur without taste or odour problems.
  • Have substantial gaps remain in the understanding and recognition of the hazards and risks of cyanobacterial cells and their toxins according to 190 participants from 36 countries at the 6th International Conference on Toxic Cyanobacteria held at Bergen, Norway in 2004.
  • Toxins are within cells and naturally occurring, substantial amounts are released into the water when the cells rupture or die (lysis).
  • Microcystin-LR is 1 of 80 known Microcystins identified to date.
  • Health Canada states: it is impossible to detect the presence of toxins in the water by taste, odour or appearance; you must assume they are present.
  • Canadian Public Health Inspectors state: “To protect yourself, avoid activities that in case the chance of exposure to these algae blooms: Do not drink, bathe, or shower in untreated surface water; Do not allow children, pets and livestock to drink or swim in the water; Do not cook or boil the water. Boiling may release more toxins into the water; Be cautious about eating fish caught where blue-green algae blooms occur, and do not eat the liver, kidneys and other organs; Do not treat the water with a disinfectant like chlorine (bleach). This will break open algae cells and release toxins into the water; Do not rely on water jug filtration systems as they may not protect against toxins; On lakes and rivers where blue-green algal blooms are confirmed, people who use surface water for their private drinking water supply may wish to consider an alternate, protected source of water.”
  • The WHO’s Working Group on Protection and Control of Drinking-Water Quality identified cyanobacteria as one of the most urgent areas in which guidance was required. During the development by WHO of the Guidelines for Safe Recreational-water Environments, it also became clear that health concerns related to cyanobacteria should be considered and were an area of increasing public and professional interest.
  • A survey on 45 utility waters (i.e., source waters, treatment and plant intakes, and plant effluents) in the United States and Canada between 1996 and 1998 found 80% of the 677 samples to contain detectable levels of microcystins. 4% exceeded the WHO`s advisory limit of 1ug L-1 for microcystin LR in drinking water. Two of the 4% were “finished water” samples.
  • Recent samples of untreated source water taken from Lake Erie and of finished water in Florida have exceeded the WHO’s advisory limit.
  • Confirmation of toxins within a bloom cannot be accomplished by visual inspection; samples must be sent to a laboratory for analysis. Warning signs may be observed, such as the presence of dead waterfowl or other wildlife along the shoreline or reports of domestic animal poisonings (specifically cattle and dogs). Still, toxic blooms can occur without any noticeable effect on the local animal populations.
  • Some water treatment options are effective for some cyanotoxins, but not for others. Applying the wrong treatment process could damage cells and result in the release of cyanotoxins. Scientists say more research is needed to find adequate testing and treatment solutions to ensure our water is potable and safe to drink.
  • As of 2010 a few countries have developed drinking water guidelines values or standards for these cyanobacterial toxins: Anatoxin, Anatoxin-a, Cylindrospermopsin, LPS endotoxins, Microcystins, Nodularin, and Saxitoxins.
  • Cyanobacteria toxins can be neurotoxic, hepatotoxic, dematotoxic, or bioactive compounds.
  • Their distribution in the water column may vary from the surface of the water column, to a few metres below the water surface, or found at the bottom of the water body. Some may rest over winter in the sediment without light or oxygen where they may survive for several years. A new bloom may appear in the spring from these colonies.
  • Toxigenic Lyngbya species, adapted to high salinity environments, can form benthic mats that can grow to a football field size within an hour.
  • Some species with the ability to produce toxins may not produce it under all conditions. Both nontoxic and toxic varieties of the most common toxin-producing cyanobacteria exist and it is impossible to tell if a species is toxic or not toxic by looking at it. Even when toxin producing cyanobacteria are present, they may not actually produce toxins. Some species of cyanobacteria can produce multiple types and variants of cyanotoxins.
  • A cyanobacteria bloom developed in Australia’s Warragamba Dam and lasted for over 3 months. The cell count of Microcystis exceeded 100,000 cells/mL in the first week of September and reached 700,000 cells/mL near the dam wall in October 2007. More than 120 water samples were tested for toxins, and all but four detected no toxins. On the four occasions where toxins were detected, the toxin levels were well below the guideline values, and immediate re-sampling of the same sites detected no toxins.
  • Toxins that may not be detected by traditional methods – testing of samples found that up to 70ug L-1 of microcystin could be present in the absence of cells. In the same project, water samples demonstrated the presence of cylindrospermopsin in the absence of species known to produce this toxin. The difficulty in associating specific cell concentrations with toxin concentrations and relative human health risk is evident from the data. A general approximation of 10,000 cells mL-1 of Cylindrospermopsis were present in samples containing 1 ug L-1 of CYN plus deoxy-CYN, this concentration of toxin was also recorded in relation to individual cell counts as low as 835 cells mL-1 or zero.
  • Climate change and drought are expected to have a huge impact and increased risks on Australian water quality with cyanotoxins contaminating drinking water supplies. Risk-based and multi-barrier approaches are required to guarantee organisms and cyanotoxins do not affect water quality.
  • The WHO report most documented cases of human injury through cyanotoxins involved exposure through drinking water.
  • In 1931, A massive Microcystis bloom in the Ohio and Potomac rivers caused illness of 5,000-8,000 people whose drinking-water was taken from these rivers. Drinking-water treatment by precipitation, filtration and chlorination was not sufficient to remove the toxins.
  • On July 19, 2014 Microcystis slipped through Toledo’s Collins Park eight-phase water treatment plant consisting of chemical permanganate, powdered activated carbon, alum, lime, soda ash, polyphosphate, chlorine, and fluoride. A “do not drink” or boil warning was issued to 500,000 Toledo residents and a state of emergency declared.
  • In 1975, Endotoxic shock of 23 dialysis patients in Washington, BC was attributed to a cyanobacterial bloom in a drinking-water reservoir.
  • In 1996, 131 dialysis patients were exposed to microcystins from the water used for dialysis; 56 died.
  • An individual weighing 60 kg eats 40 g of lettuce (approximately 4 leaves) exposed to Microcystin could exceed the tolerably daily intake recommended by WHO. Even low concentrations of MCs in irrigation water can put humans at risk.
  • Sharks are known to bioaccumulate toxins. Sharks eat fish, mammals, crustacians, and plankton. BMAA has been detected in fins of all species with concentrations ranging from 144 to 1836 ng/mg wet weight.
  • BMAA has been linked to neurodegenerataive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s.
  • Humans can be exposed to cyanotoxins, especially Microcystins, through aquatic animals, edible plants, and dietary supplements. The precise doses of these toxins still need to be solved in order to prevent possible health risks.
  • Health Canada is recommending that the use of non-Spirulina blue-green algae by children be discontinued until follow-up measures have been implemented. These search terms are recommended to find more information of Health Canada’s website but may not be inclusive so use caution: “Spirulina”, “Blue-Green Algae”, “Algae”, and “Paralytic Shellfish Toxin”.
  • As algae in a cyanobacterial bloom die, the water may smell bad.
  • Toxin-producing cyanobacteria are an emerging issue for lake managers throughout the world.
  • Québec, British-Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut do not maintain an online list of blue-green outbreaks in lakes/rivers in their provinces.
  • The organisms commonly known as blue-green algae have proliferated much more rapidly than other algae in lakes across North America and Europe over the past two centuries – and in many cases the rate of increase has sharply accelerated since the mid-20th century, according to an international team of researchers led by scientists at McGill University.


Click here to learn more about this mysterious bacteria and the document this list was based on.



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