Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have been in the news recently, especially here in Central New York. Just two years ago HAB outbreaks in Skaneateles Lake, which—unfiltered—provides Syracuse’s drinking water, caused a good deal of concern about the potability of that water and even led to several days of beach closures. Other areas of the State have been affected by HABs, too.
Earlier this month, New York launched a new online HABs map and reporting system to encourage citizens to learn about and report suspected HABs. Links to both are here:
https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/66337b887ccd465ab7645c0a9c1bc5c0 (reporting form)
The map is interactive and updated daily from late spring through fall. Yellow and gray icons on the map showed suspected and archived HABs, respectively, and, when clicked upon, may contain links to photographs of the outbreaks. The reporting form is mobile phone friendly.
So what, exactly, are HABs? And what causes them? And should they concern us? HABs are large colonies of algae that are naturally present in lakes and streams and produce toxic or harmful effects on people, animal, fish and wildlife. While blooms occur naturally—they tend to appear in nutrient-rich surface waters that receive a lot of sunlight—some man-made activities are thought to increase their occurrence. HABs, for instance, often occur in water bodies high in nitrogen and/or phosphorus, which some suspect might result from the use of fertilizers. While human illnesses caused by HABs are fairly rare, they can be debilitating. Symptoms from exposure include diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting, skin/eye/throat irritation, and allergic reactions or breathing difficulties. For some people, exposure even can be fatal.
The State takes a three step approach to HABs: “Know it, Avoid it, Report it.”
Know it. It might be a blue-green algae bloom in surface water if you see:
● Strongly colored water (blue-green, green, yellow, white, brown, purple, or red).
● Paint-like appearance.
● Floating mats or scums.
Avoid it. Always stay away from blooms in surface waters:
● Don’t swim, fish, boat, or wade in areas with blooms.
● Don’t eat fish caught from areas with blooms.
● Rinse with clean water if you, your family or pets have contact with blooms.
● Never drink, prepare food, or make ice with untreated surface water.
● Boiling water will not remove blue-green algae or their toxins.
Report it. Report blooms to the DEC, your local health department, or email@example.com.
For more information on HABs, visit DEC’s Harmful Algal Blooms web page, https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/77118.html.