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Harmful Algal Blooms in Ohio
Harmful Algal Bloom

Expand the sections below to learn more about HABs. 

HABs Toxins

HABs can produce toxic chemicals in the form of neurotoxins (which affect the nervous system), hepatotoxins (which affect the liver), and dermatoxins (which affect the skin). The table below lists the different toxins produced by HABs (right column) and what type each toxin is (left column). 

Toxin Name

Type of Toxin

Anatoxin-a

Neurotoxin

Anatoxin-a (s)

Neurotoxin

Cylindrospermopsin

Hepatotoxin

Lyngbyatoxin

Dermatoxin

Microcycstin

Hepatotoxin

Saxitoxin

Neurotoxin 

All of these toxins can potentially impact the health of people who come into contact with water contaminated with these toxins, depending upon the type and levels of toxins in the water, and the type of contact with the contaminated water. 

 

 

Common Ways to Come into Contact with HABs

The most common ways to come into contact with HABs are:

  • Drinking/Swallowing – Drinking HABs-contaminated water from a public water system during a drinking water advisory or the incidental/accidental swallowing of contaminated water such as during water-related recreational activities.            

  • Skin Contact – Swimming, skiing, tubing and other recreational activities in HABs-contaminated waters. 

  • Inhaling – Breathing aerosolized water droplets (misting) of HABs-contaminated water from recreational activities such as jet-skiing or power boating.

Other than through water droplets (mist) caused by recreational water activities, HABs toxins do not release into the air and pose a health risk.

Some of the blue-green algae produce odor-generating by-products that are not toxic but have a very unpleasant smell which can cause sensitive individuals to become nauseated (upset stomach, vomiting) and develop headaches.

 

Eating Fish Caught in HABs-Contaminated Waters

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife works closely with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and ODH to monitor fish tissue.

 

Preliminary fish tissue research suggests that fish caught in waters affected by HABs should be safe to eat as long as the Ohio Sport Fish Health and Consumption guidelines are followed.  There is minimal evidence in scientific literature suggesting the accumulation of microcystin toxins in fish fillets with transmission to people who eat them. In other words, scientific data does not seem to suggest that people can become sick from eating fish fillets even if the fish lived in water contaminated with microcystin, one specific kind of HAB toxin.  

 

It is recommended that fish and fish fillets be rinsed with clean water before consumption as a precaution.  DO NOT eat internal organs since microcystin toxins and other contaminants have the potential to concentrate (build up) in them, especially the liver.

 

 

HABs-Related Health Problems in People and Animals

The toxins produced by HABs can cause illness in people and animals regardless of how the toxins enter a person's body. The type of illness can vary based on the type of toxin and the route of exposure.

 

Drinking/Swallowing HABs-contaminated water can cause:

  • Severe diarrhea and vomiting

  • Liver toxicity (abnormal liver function, abdominal pain)

  • Kidney toxicity

  • Neurotoxicity (weakness, salivation, tingly fingers, numbness, dizziness)

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Death


Skin contact with HABs-contaminated water can cause: 

  • Rashes

  • Hives

  • Skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits)


Inhaling HABs-contaminated water can cause: 

  • Runny eyes and nose

  • Sore throat

  • Asthma-like symptoms

  • Allergic reactions


Individuals should seek medical attention if they believe that they have been exposed to algal toxins and are having adverse health effects. If someone is having a medical emergency, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.

Contact a veterinarian immediately if pets show signs of illness.

 

 

HABs Advisories in Ohio

To protect people, pets, and livestock from illnesses caused by HABs, an advisory may be posted. Different kinds of advisories for HABs-contaminated waters in Ohio may be issued depending on:

  • Whether the water is drinking water or recreational water

  • The level of HABs or toxins present in the water

 

Click here for more information about HABs advisories in Ohio.

Click here for public health guidance for specific settings (schools, healthcare facilities, etc.) during drinking water advisories. 

 

 

Treating People and Pets Exposed to HAB Toxins

People

If you come into contact with HABs-contaminated water, rinse off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible. 

 

Individuals who are concerned that they may be experiencing HABs illness symptoms after exposure to contaminated water should contact their healthcare provider. Healthcare providers who rule out other potential causes of the symptoms and suspect a HABs illness, should notify their local health district.

 

Seek immediate medical attention if you think that you, your pet or your livestock might have been poisoned by HAB toxins or if someone has a medical emergency.

 

Additional information for physicians and providers treating patients with suspected HABs-related illness can find more information on the Information for Physicians page. 

 

Pets

Thoroughly rinse off your pets with clean, fresh water.  Pets that have been in HABs-contaminated water may ingest toxins by drinking the water and/or licking their fur afterward. Do not let your pet lick himself if he has been in HABs-contaminated water or if he was swimming in a body of water with a posted advisory. 

 

Seek immediate medical attention if you think that you, your pet or your livestock might have been poisoned by HAB toxins or if someone has a medical emergency.

 

 

How to Report a Bloom in Ohio

If you see surface scum or something that looks like cyanobacteria in Ohio’s rivers, lakes, or public swimming beaches, report it to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by completing the Bloom Report web form or paper form and emailing it to HABmailbox@epa.ohio.gov.

 

Download the Ohio EPA Bloom Report web form.

Download the Ohio EPA Bloom Report paper form.

 

 

How to Report a Suspected HABs Illness to ODH

Human Illness

Individuals who are concerned that they may be experiencing HABs illness symptoms after exposure to contaminated water should contact their healthcare provider. Healthcare providers who rule out other potential causes of the symptoms and suspect a HABs illness, should notify their local health district.

Click here to find your local health district.

 

Local health districts should complete forms for reports of human illnesses associated with either recreational or public water supply exposure to HABs toxins, and then fax completed forms to the ODH Bureau of Environmental Health and Radiation Protection secure fax: 614-466-4556.

Click here for the HABs-Related Human Illness Report Form for Recreational Exposure.

Click here for the HABs-Related Human Illness Report form for Public Drinking Water.

 

Animal Illness


Pet and livestock owners who are concerned that their animal may be experiencing HABs illness symptoms after exposure to contaminated water should contact their veterinarian.

 

Veterinarians who rule out other potential causes of the symptoms and suspect a HABs illness, should complete an animal illness report form and fax it to the ODH Zoonotic Disease Program secure fax: 614-564-2437.

Click here for the HABs-Related Animal Illness Report Form.

Click here for information on HABs-related animal illness.