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Report: Toxic Algae Problems More Common Across Nation

PHOTO: An increase in farm fertilizer runoff along with more severe weather is leading to a larger number of reports of toxic algae blooms in U.S. waterways. It can make people ill and kill pets and wildlife. Photo credit: Ben Townsend.
PHOTO: An increase in farm fertilizer runoff along with more severe weather is leading to a larger number of reports of toxic algae blooms in U.S. waterways. It can make people ill and kill pets and wildlife. Photo credit: Ben Townsend.
October 7, 2013

HARTFORD, Conn. - Toxic algae blooms gumming up waterways is a nationwide problem according to the latest National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report, but experts say Connecticut's decentralized approach makes it tough to track the health risk. According to NWF senior regional communications manager Jordan Lubetkin, their study finds 21 states issued health warnings about toxic algae this past summer. He said there is no reliable way to measure the health risks in Connecticut, because each town has its own methods and standards for what it decides to report.

"Reporting of the individual blooms is left up to the 169 towns, so finding information is really almost impossible, because there is no segregated statewide data, and what we are trying to get away from is a haphazard approach."

He says just across the Sound, New York is an example of what needs to happen. That state had the largest number of outbreaks nationwide, mostly he says because they do a better job keeping track. Just this summer, 150 separate health warnings were issued for toxic algae blooms on lakes, rivers and reservoirs nationwide.

The NWF's Andy Buschbaum explained that the increase in the toxic algae has a twofold cause. It starts with more fertilizer runoff, especially from farms. Then, the nutrients in the fertilizer 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."

Since it's a national problem, NWF said it requires a national solution. Its recommendations include standards for the amounts of 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.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - CT