Harmful Algal Blooms
on the Rise

Scientists, agencies, communities, and lawmakers are working to understand the drivers behind the proliferation of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and developing science-based solutions to move forward from a reactive to a proactive approach.

On August 2, 2014, hundreds of thousands of people in and around Toledo, Ohio, were told to stop drinking tap water because microcystin, a toxin produced by cyanobacteria, in Lake Erie had intruded into their municipal water system. Desperate residents bought every bottle of water they could find, and the National Guard had to distribute new supplies.

Thanks to robust monitoring and treatment by water utilities, the kind of contamination experienced in Toledo is exceedingly rare. But cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) have impacted water quality to some degree in virtually every state and province in North America, harming aquatic life, making lakes, rivers, and beaches unsafe for swimming or boating and undermining property values. The EPA estimated in 2007 that the most common CHAB toxin, microcystin, was present in 30% of U.S. lakes and present at harmful levels in 1% of lakes.

While lakes are generally most vulnerable, rivers are also increasingly at risk. In 2015, nearly two-thirds of the 981 mile-long Ohio River was impacted with CHABs, a huge increase from the size of the only other recorded bloom, observed in 2008, which covered about 40 miles, according to the New York Times. Worldwide, the problem is even more severe in many countries, especially in China.

Photo Credit: NOAA

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Photo Credit: NOAA

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© Ecology and Environment, Inc.    All Rights Reserved

© Ecology and Environment, Inc.    All Rights Reserved

Harmful Algal Blooms on the Rise

Scientists, agencies, communities, and officials work to understand the drivers behind the harmful algal blooms and develop science-based solutions