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Issues Of The Environment: Study Finds Freshwater Algae May Become Airborne, Posing A Public Threat

Jun 20, 2018

Algal Blooms in Lake Erie
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

Algal blooms are common in the Great Lakes in the summertime, but they may be more dangerous than originally believed.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks with Dr. Andrew Ault, assistant professor at the University of Michigan's departments of environmental health sciences and chemistry, about a study that determined that algal blooms can become airborne, and, therefore, become a public hazard.


Overview

  • Slimy mats of microscopic plant-like organisms and bacteria can grow out of control on freshwater lakes during the summer in Michigan.  Some of these “algae blooms” produce toxic chemicals that cause liver damage, vomiting, or neurological problems.  They can pose a serious threat to public health; in 2014, a bloom contaminated the water supply in Toledo, Ohio and left residents without safe drinking water for days. 

  • In 2018, the University of Michigan School of Public Health published research demonstrating that the threat from harmful algae blooms (HAB) can become airborne, and that toxins can reach inland areas far from their source.

  • Incidents of harmful algae are increasing in Michigan due to climate change and pollution from fertilizer runoff.  In 2016, the MDEQ began to monitor a few inland lakes for evidence of HAB, and very few lakes were found to have levels deemed unsafe.  According to the MDEQ, “2017 has revealed much higher concentrations.  The extreme temporal variation of microcystin production and bloom intensities highlights the need for continuous, long-term monitoring.” 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu