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Report: Toxic Algae Problems Become More Common Across the Country

PHOTO: An increase in fertilizer run-off from agriculture, along with more severe weather is leading to a larger number of reports of toxic algae blooms in the U-S. The algae can make people ill and kill animals or pets. CREDIT: Ben Townsend
PHOTO: An increase in fertilizer run-off from agriculture, along with more severe weather is leading to a larger number of reports of toxic algae blooms in the U-S. The algae can make people ill and kill animals or pets. CREDIT: Ben Townsend
October 7, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS - A new analysis shows a growing scourge of harmful algae blooms across the country. According to Andy Buchsbaum, director of the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation, which studied the issue, 21 states - including Indiana - issued health warnings about toxic algae this summer, covering about 150 locations on lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

"Normal algae is bad enough. It gums up your boat motor. It's yucky to swim in and it's unpleasant, but this toxic algae actually threatens people's health, and threatens the health of animals and pets that go in the water," Buchsbaum warned. "So it's really something to be alarmed about, that we're experiencing this many across the country."

The Indiana State Department of Health warns of possible high levels of blue-green algae at many of Indiana's reservoirs and lakes and cautions against coming in contact with it. The health department recommends bathing in warm, soapy water after a day on the water and urges people to keep pets and livestock away. The algae can be toxic if ingested.

The increase in toxic algae across the country, explained Buchsbaum, has two main causes, starting with more fertilizer runoff, especially from farms. Such nutrients feed the algae.

"There is more and more forms of phosphorus and nitrogen that are running off from a variety of sources, but particularly from agriculture, from farmers' fields. And we also know that there are more severe storms that are occurring," he said. "That means there's larger pulses, of rainwater particularly, that push these nutrients into these water bodies."

Buchsbaum said that since this is a national problem, it requires a national solution. He said that should include standards for nutrients in water bodies, along with resources in the Farm Bill to give farmers added incentives for being good stewards of the land and water.

Maps of algae blooms and the full report are at bit.ly/1badS30.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN