The research team collects water near Albemarle Sound that could sicken people and animals who breathe in air contaminated by algal blooms. Abe Loven

NC - Algae blooms may add to air pollution, a greater threat than previously thought

Every summer, thick algae beds in freshwater lakes and coastal bays kill animals and pets by poisoning their organs and nervous systems. Last month, The News & Observer reported a dog’s death linked to algal blooms in Jordan Lake. Read more at: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article263283473.html#storylink=cpy

With climate change driving more extreme heat events that raise water temperatures and causing heavier rains that flush pollutants into waterways, algal blooms are becoming a more frequent and longer-lasting global problem.

Lethal blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, feed on fertilizer pollutants and grow atop standing bodies of water in clumps large enough to see. These bacteria produce varied chemicals, some of which can be toxic.

Scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are studying if the bacteria’s poisons also escape into the air, worsening air quality and risking the health of humans who simply walk near pond scum.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set guidelines for ingesting or coming in contact with harmful algal blooms, advising people not to drink or touch algae-contaminated water.

But the EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization do not have guidelines for bacterial toxins in the air, as scientists are still figuring out how much toxin people must breathe in to be sickened.

There are numerous cyanobacteria that produce various toxic chemicals. It’s been difficult to determine which bacteria are doing what in a lake.


UNC environmental scientist Haley Plaas, an author of the new study, is looking for microcystins, a specific toxin that cyanobacteria produce that the EPA considers a potent liver toxin and possible human carcinogen.

Read more.