Understanding the dangers posed by toxic algae

Data pix.

ST. LOUIS – A fun day at the lake turns tragic when toxic algae claims the lives of several beloved pets.

Missouri and Illinois state scientists said there are currently no reports of blue-green algae in the St. Louis metro area but they are monitoring the bacteria closely because conditions are right this time of year for the blooms to pop up anywhere.

Over the past week, there have been several reports of dogs becoming sick and dying shortly after swimming in lakes and ponds in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and other states. Veterinarians point to toxic blue-green algae, which blooms in excess during July and August.

Dan Zarlenga with Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) said nutrient-rich waste from fertilizer and livestock may add to the rapid growth.

Becca O’Hearn, MDC’s water pollution biologist, said blue-green algae are naturally occurring photosynthetic bacteria that have the potential to produce toxins harmful to humans and animals. Effects from exposure range from a mild rash to liver damage and even death.

Zarlenga said there are numerous reports of cyanobacteria in Missouri each year. There was one report of blue-green algae found in a subdivision lake in Jefferson County earlier this year.

There have been no illnesses related to blue-green algae reported in Missouri this year.

Kyle Smith spends several hours each week training his dog, Cooper, through the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). They often train at Creve Coeur Lake and other area lakes.

"There is a water aspect (to the training), so I'm trying to get him used to getting in the water, lots of different locations," said Smith.

Blue-green algae can be hard to identify because it can come in a variety of colors including green, blue, red, and brown, and it can appear in different forms like a thick layer or like spilled paint. Chemical testing is needed to know for sure.

Smith said he does not take chances with his best friend.

"If I am concerned about the way a body of water looks, I'll just keep him out of it," he said. "I mean, when you put this much work into a dog, it's better safe than sorry.”

Experts say: When in doubt, stay out.

See where blooms have been reported here.

How to report a bloom:
1. Fill out the Suspected Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Notification Form.

2. Use the BloomWatch App - once loaded on your device, you can provide descriptions, location, and pictures. Information submitted will be reported to the Missouri response team.

3. Call MoDNR's Environmental Response (EER) Spill Line: 573-634-2436 or Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' (DHSS) Public Health Emergency Hotline: 800-392-0272.

More info may be found here:

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