Q: What are blue green algae?
A: Blue green algae are a group of organisms that are among the oldest on the planet. They can live in freshwater or salt water. Most people know them as “pond scum.” These blue green algae can actually be many colors including green, red, orange, or brown. The appearance of blooms may also be described as fine grass clippings or small clumps. Blue green algae also have been found to share many characteristics of bacteria, which has led to them being known as “cyanobacteria.”
Q: What causes these organisms to form “blooms”?
A: Blue green algae can multiply quickly in lakes with high nutrient levels, particularly when the water is warm and the weather is calm. This population explosion causes “blooms” of blue-green algae that turn the water green, often with floating layers of scum.
Q: Does all blue green algae release microcystin toxin?
A: Blue-green algae do not always produce toxins. You cannot look at a bloom and tell if it is toxic.
Q: How long can microcystin be present in the water?
A: Microcystins may persist even after the collapse of algal blooms in the late summer and early fall. Colder temperatures and decreased light intensity results in decreased rates of microcystin breakdown.
Q: Are there harmful algal blooms in Iowa?
A: Yes. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has identified a type of cyanobacteria, called microcystin, in some fresh water lakes in Iowa. The Iowa DNR conducts beach water sampling during the summer months to identify microcystin toxin. They have a listing of swimming advisories on their Beach Monitoring website: http://wqm.igsb.uiowa.edu/activities/beach/beach.htm
Q: What is Microcystin toxin?
A: Microcystin is a toxin that is released by some species of blue-green algae.
Q: Can you get sick from microcystin toxin?
A: People can get sick from microcystin toxin if they have direct contact with a blue green algae bloom, by either intentionally or accidentally swallowing water, by having direct skin contact (as when swimming, wading, or showering), or by breathing airborne droplets containing the toxins, such as during boating or waterskiing.
Q: What are the symptoms of microcystin poisoning?
A: Symptoms of microcystin poisoning may take hours or days to show up, but normally are exhibited within one week after exposure.
Symptoms may include:
• Microcystin poisoning can cause breathing problems, stomach upset and skin reactions.
• Getting blue-green algae/microcystin on the skin may produce a rash, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits).
• Swallowing water containing blue-green algae/microcystin may cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headaches, and fever.
• Inhaling water droplets containing blue-green algae/microcystin can cause runny eyes and nose, cough, and sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.
Q: What is the treatment for microcystin poisoning?
A: There is no specific treatment. All that can be done is treatment of symptoms.