You may know that cyanobacteria, a form of blue-green algae, are crucial to life on this planet. They produce oxygen, they filter carbon, and they are bio-fertilizers – one of nature’s ways of improving the health of its soil.
But too much of that good thing can be toxic. Under certain conditions, cyanobacteria produce toxins, such as microcystin, which can sicken humans and cause the death of pets along with fish and other aquatic life.
When algal blooms become toxic, they are called “harmful algal blooms,” or HABs. Sometimes the algal bloom is easy to spot by its color and the presence of a green film on top of ponds or lakes, but mostly we have no way of knowing whether that algae is toxic until residents see the evidence of a fish kill or until a human or pet is sickened from exposure.
That’s why the tracking and monitoring of HABs is crucial to a comprehensive state environmental protection program. And why the absence of any tracking or notification system at TDEC is troublesome, as reported by the NRDC in today's release of data from all 50 states.
Along with Harpeth Conservancy and Mississippi River Collaborative, TCWN is collecting data about programs in other states that comprehensively track HAB outbreaks and enact proper response measures, like closing public swimming areas and updating state websites with public testing data. One interesting approach is in Wisconsin, where doctors are required to report HAB exposure in humans to local health departments in order to prevent widespread health impacts.
TDEC’s Division of Water Resources and the TN Department of Health are the two state agencies that must work together to proactively address the rising rates of HAB outbreaks and prevent further impacts on human health and the environment.
Interested in forming a lake monitoring group? Email [email protected].
Read more about HAB outbreaks, exposure, and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.