Western Lake Erie will experience a harmful algal bloom of cyanobacteria this summer, according to NOAA and its research partners. Scientists expect this year’s bloom to measure greater than a 7 on the severity index. The severity index is based on a bloom’s biomass – the amount of its harmful algae – over a sustained period. The the size of a bloom is not necessarily an indication of how toxic it is.
Not all algae are harmful, however some cyanobacteria blooms can grow rapidly and produce toxins that cause harm to animal life and humans so they are called harmful algal blooms (HABs). Harmful algal blooms of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in Lake Erie can produce toxins that can pose a risk to drinking water, cause skin irritation, and negatively affect wildlife, companion animals and livestock.
Contact with skin can cause rash, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits). Inhalation of water droplets can cause runny eyes and nose, a sore throat, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions. Ingestion of the water can cause abdominal pain, headache, sore throat, nausea and vomiting, dry cough, diarrhea, blistering around the mouth, and pneumonia.
Anyone affected is advised to contact their healthcare provider or regional health department.
Animals can also be affected. Ingestion of the water can cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, pale mucous membranes, and death. Thoroughly wash yourself and companion animals after suspected contact with a HAB and seek medical treatment immediately.
Health officials conduct routine monitoring to ensure that public drinking water is safe. Follow drinking water advisories and contact your regional health department with questions.
You can still boat and recreate in Lake Erie waters, but be aware that HABs may be present. Respect any waterbody closures announced by local public health authorities. Avoid activities in areas where the water is discolored by algae or scums are visible.