Illinois rivers and lakes need to be closely monitored as temperatures begin to warm up, according to the Illinois EPA and the Department of Public Health. Water conditions will become ideal for a bloom of blue-green algae.
The blue-green algae or cyanobacteria are a naturally occurring organism in freshwater during the summer months. While most of the algae is harmless, some blooms of the algae can produce toxic chemicals that can cause adverse health effects in people and animals.
Exposure to algal toxins can cause the following symptoms: rashes, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, or wheezing. More severe symptoms result in longer exposure to the algae.
Illinois EPA Lake Biologist Terri Holland explains what residents should look for when they plan to recreate in Illinois rivers and lakes this summer: “Typically it can look like spilled paint. It can be a very deep dark green, or blue green color. It can produce produce surface scums, mattes, or films on water. Sometimes they can produce green globs that are suspended in the water. It’s just something that if it doesn’t look right, if it looks bad to you; chances are it could be bad and you should just be aware and take precautions or simply don’t get in the water at all.”
Residents shouldn’t allow pets to drink the water or lick their fur after being in the contaminated water. Small children and those with compromised immune systems should also refrain from entering water with the algae present. If you are concerned that you have symptoms related to algal toxins after water recreation, call Illinois Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. If you believe your pet is experiencing symptoms that may be a result of exposure, contact your veterinarian immediately. Pond owners and residents can learn more about cyanobacteria at the Illinois EPA website or visit the U.S. EPA www.epa.gov/cyanohabs.