Dog Deaths Raise Algal Bloom Alarm as States Report More Toxins

Sep 4, 2019 at 12:00am

Bloomberg Environment

A high-profile series of dog deaths has awakened the public to the growing problem of toxic algal blooms, spurred by rising temperatures and pollution.

The blooms are emerging as a national, not just regional, concern, according to preliminary data reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through July. Samples taken from New Jersey to California, and from Texas to Washington state, all show evidence of toxins given off by the blooms.

Since 2018, when the EPA started collecting the latest batch of data, algal blooms have been documented near the intakes of water treatment plants at least 130 times.

Algae occurs naturally in bodies of water across all U.S. states, with fetid blooms on ponds, lakes, and streams usually spiking each August. But the putrid, mucky overgrowth of algae in water can release toxins that sicken and kill humans and animals. These harmful blooms thrive in hotter temperatures and with exposure to nutrients used in farming, such as phosphorus.

In May, the U.S. EPA came out with recommended safety levels for state action regarding two algal-bloom produced toxins in recreational water. Those recommendations followed federal drinking water health advisories for those toxins issued in 2015, after a 2014 drinking water ban in Toledo, Ohio, sparked by a massive bloom in western Lake Erie.

While scientists have monitored harmful algal blooms and their toxins for decades, state regulators are becoming increasingly aware of their harms due to recent pet deaths. Reports of dogs dying in North Carolina in August drew national headlines, and eight additional dogs died in Michigan the same month from possible exposure to algae-linked bacteria after the canines took a dip into ponds, streams, or lakes.

“And dogs are so silly,” Susan Wilde, associate professor of aquatic science at the University of Georgia, told Bloomberg Environment. “Not only do they swim in that water and don’t give a rip, they will even eat the scum that accumulates.”

Dogs aren’t the only creatures at risk: People have gotten sick from possible toxins in seafood, and in the Southeast in 2015, there were reports of dozens of bald eagles dying due to links to toxic blue-green algae.

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