Summer 2015

Harmful algal blooms have been reported in all 50 US states with damaging effects to public health, the environment and the economy. Algae can “bloom,” or rapidly grow and accumulate in coastal and surface waters given ideal environmental conditions such as slow-moving warm water, increased light exposure and high nutrient concentrations.

Toxins may be produced by these blooms, warranting the monitoring of recreational and drinking water by public health agencies. Humans can be exposed to these toxins through contact, inhalation, ingestion or consumption. Health consequences include toxic effects on the liver, kidneys, respiratory system, nervous system and skin, and sometimes death.

The impact of harmful algal blooms on everyday life has been increasing, as underscored by a three-day drinking water ban for 500,000 Toledo, Ohio residents in August of 2014. In response to this and other episodes, on May 11, 2015, EPA released ten-day health advisory levels recommending drinking water threshold concentrations for three specific algal toxins, all three of which are produced by cyanobacteria.

 

Harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie in 2011, Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

While EPA is working on this issue at the national level, state public health departments and laboratories are being called upon to provide guidance and action to address local algal bloom problems. State monitoring is expanding, and laboratories need to perform analytical methods that can determine algal toxin concentrations in water. Given these needs, APHL staff and Environmental Laboratory Science Committee members recognized a training gap.

APHL Webinar Reaches over 400 in US and Canada

APHL responded by recruiting two EPA researchers, Drs. Heath Mash and William Adams, to share the current state of the science in a free webinar. Registration for “Harmful Algal Blooms: Drinking Water Impacts and Lab Methods” filled within one week. On July 9, 431 people viewed the live webinar from 132 sites in 38 states, Washington, DC and three Canadian provinces. All levels of government (state, local, federal) participated in addition to viewers representing academic, nonprofit and commercial laboratory sectors. In a post-webinar survey, 82% (n=26/32) of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the content was new or provided updated information. Viewers commented that the presentation was “timely” and “an excellent source for their work.” This webinar can still be viewed free-of-charge at any time over the next year on the APHL training website.

As the science continues to evolve, APHL will develop additional resources to help public health and environmental laboratories meet the challenge of harmful algal blooms. A fact sheet, to be published in the fall of 2015, will provide a broad overview of testing methods and other, related subtopics. Another webinar with updated laboratory methods will be presented in the spring of 2016 in preparation for the summer season.

​The Lowdown on Cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria is commonly known as blue-green algae but is actually a bacteria.

The three cyanotoxins (total microcystin, cylindro-spermopsin and anatoxin-a) have been placed on the third and fourth (currently draft) Safe Drinking Water Act Contaminant Candidate List.

If deemed a significant public health threat by EPA, this listing could lead to eventual drinking water regulation.

Contact  Contact

​Megan Latshaw, PhD, MHS
Director, Environmental Health
240.485.2788
megan.latshaw@aphl.org