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Blue-green algae present at Antelope Lake

By Staff | Aug 31, 2018

Early this week I received a call from Mike Ell with the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) Water Quality Division alerting me that blue-green algae is present in Antelope Lake and that the blue-green algae advisory for this body of water has been upgraded from advisory to warning status due to the presence of a heavy algal bloom.

The following information was provided by the NDDoH with permission to share.

Hot summer weather can contribute to the production of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in bodies of water that are used by people, pets and livestock. Blue-green algae discolor the water, and can cause foam, scum, or mats to appear on the surface. In severe blooms, the water can have the appearance of spilled green paint or green pea soup.

Blue-green algae can also produce toxins in the water called cyanotoxins. People and animals that swallow water containing cyanotoxins can become sick with diarrhea and vomiting; numb lips, tingling fingers and toes; dizziness; or rashes, hives or skin blisters. In severe cases of exposure from ingesting contaminated water, cyanotoxins can result in death. There are no known antidotes for the cyanotoxins produced by blue-green algae. Children are at higher risk than adults for illness because their smaller size can allow them to ingest a relatively larger dose of toxin. The NDDoH can test water for toxins, and if they are detected, can issue advisories to the public. However, because it can take time to test water, people are urged to err on the side of caution and avoid waters that look discolored or scummy, or that have a foul odor.

“Whether blue-green algae or toxic water due to increased salts and sulfates, cattle can develop adverse clinical signs, including death,” says Dr. Michelle Mostrom with NDSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. “A primary factor in these deaths is that cyanobacteria blooms can occur quickly, within a day, and it’s difficult for livestock producers to check water quality daily or every-other day, which is very important in cases of cyanotoxin poisoning caused by cyanobacterial blooms. Some of these cyanotoxins are quick neurotoxins and can kill livestock in a few minutes to a few hours; no treatment will be effective after the toxin has been quickly absorbed.”

The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Animal Health Division, recommends these steps to avoid exposure to cyanotoxins:

* Respect advisories announced by public health authorities.

* Do not swim, water ski, or boat in areas where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum or mats of green or blue-green algae on the water.

* If you accidentally swim in water that might have a cyanobacteria bloom, rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible.

* Do not let pets or livestock swim in or drink from areas where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum, or mats of algae.

* If pets (especially dogs) swim in scummy water, rinse them off immediately do not let them lick the algae (and toxins) off.

* Do not irrigate lawns or golf courses with pond water that looks scummy or smells bad.

For more information about the effects of blue-green algae blooms on pets and livestock, contact the Animal Health Division, North Dakota Department of Agriculture at 701.328.2655. For more information on public health issues or to report a suspected blue-green algae bloom go to the NDDoH Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) website at deq.nd.gov/WQ/3_Watershed_Mgmt/8_HABS/Habs.aspx or contact the North Dakota Department of Health, Division of Water Quality at 701-328-5210.

County based NDSU Extension offices also have sampling containers available. Local Extension agents can help producers collect and submit livestock water samples for testing. Contact the Pierce County Extension office at 701-776-6234 ext. 5 if interested.

Schmidt is the NDSU Extension agent for Pierce County.

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