The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources (DWR) reminds the public to avoid contact with discolored water as it may indicate the presence of an algal bloom, and to report any potential occurrences of blooms. DWR has already received six reports of potential blooms this spring. Of those, two were confirmed to contain cyanobacteria, a type of algae which can be harmful to people and pets.
Algae are a natural occurrence in all waterbodies, but certain environmental conditions can cause rapid cell growth called blooms. These conditions include increased nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), elevated temperatures (although blooms may occur year-round), increased sunlight, and low or no water flow. Algal blooms can appear as surface scums (which look like spilled paint and can be bright green, red, brown, or blue), algal mats (dense, macroscopic growths that float on the water surface) or discoloration throughout the water column. See examples of blooms here. Blooms tend to move due to wind and wave action. Decaying algae may produce a strong, foul odor that can impact a large area.
Certain algae can create toxins that lead to adverse health effects in humans, pets, and aquatic organisms. They are called Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). A test must be conducted to determine whether it is harmful algae.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health (DPH) routinely encourages the public to avoid contact with large accumulations of algae and to prevent children and pets from swimming or ingesting water in an algal bloom. Remember: when in doubt, stay out!
DPH suggests the following steps to safeguard against algal blooms:
- Keep children and pets away from water that appears bright green, blue, discolored, or scummy.
- Do not handle or touch large mats of algae.
- Avoid handling, cooking, or eating dead fish that may be present.
- If you come into contact with an algal bloom, wash thoroughly.
- Use clean water to rinse off pets that may have come into contact with an algal bloom.
- If your child appears ill after being in waters containing an algal bloom, seek medical care immediately.
If your pet appears to stumble, stagger, or collapse after being in a pond, lake, or river, seek veterinary care immediately.
DPH also reminds the public to take precautions as other microorganisms or pollution may be present in waterbodies that can lead to recreational water illness.