Posted by: Vicki Burns | January 30, 2017

Blue-Green Algal Toxins Increasing Across North America, Much Talk Little Action

There is a growing discrepancy between research that documents the increasing problem of toxic algae blooms and the actions necessary to decrease the human contributions to this problem. I don’t think I’m alone in admitting that this is big source of frustration to me. Over the past couple of decades we’ve become accustomed to news that swimming, fishing, even breathing air near some blooms, in our lakes, is not recommended, at times, based on blue-green algae being evident. The basis of my frustration is that “it doesn’t have to be this way”.We do know many of the actions we can make to decrease phosphorus getting into our waters. Free Press article about scientists warning about nutrient reduction
The USGS (United States Geological Survey) issued a report in 2016 which has just recently come to my attention. New Science Challenges Old Assumptions about Harmful Algal Blooms reports on the first ever national assessment of toxins from harmful algal blooms. The USGS in conjunction with EPA surveyed 1161 lakes and reservoirs across the USA.
In Canada the federal government department Health Canada, produced a report in 2016, Cyanobacterial Toxins in Drinking Water, the purpose of which was to establish drinking water guideline levels. Although this report primarily discusses cyanobacterial toxins in drinking water, not lakes, there is reference to the sources of the toxins which are the lakes. In 2012, Diane Orihel et al, published a report of a study of samples from 246 bodies of water across Canada which showed the cyanobacterial toxin, microcystin, present in lakes in every province.
I am referencing these studies to point out that it is apparent that there is significant concern in both Canada and the USA about the occurrence of blue-green algae in many lakes across our continent. Although not all the algal blooms contain toxins, many do and the information about the variety of toxins and their impacts is becoming more available. What this means is that we are impacting negatively the safe, clean water that human existence is dependent upon. We need to reverse this trend as soon as possible.
However the lack of concrete action is evident in my home province of Manitoba and I suspect elsewhere. In 2011 the premier of the day, announced a goal of reducing the phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg by 50%. But here we are 6 years later and still no concrete plan with annual, measurable goals for phosphorus reduction. So it remains “all talk but no action” and that is simply not good enough for our precious lakes.


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