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Spotting the signs of toxic blue-green algae blooms

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) — Toxic algae blooms have caused several beaches to close in Wisconsin and have the potential to seriously harm humans and animals.

It becomes a real problem in the summer months from June to September. The specific type of algae that people need to be on the lookout for is blue-green algae. Blue-green algae are a toxin producing, photosynthetic bacteria known as cyanobacteria and are a natural part of a body of water.

The Coulee Region sees less blue-green algae because the organisms need slow moving water to bloom. With the rivers and coulees, water is constantly moving throughout the area, even for lakes.

“Our only two lakes are impoundments,” said Karl Green, Community Resource Educator for UW-Extension. “The residence of the water that’s in the lake isn’t as long as you might have in a more natural setting.”

Blue-green algae also needs nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus along with sunlight. The way you can spot toxic blue-green algae blooms are by their bad smell and soupy green color. It looks like spilled latex paint.

“It’s that real green, mucky looking material,” said Green. “It can also be dangerous to animals in particular dogs, and they can get affected by it not just from drinking water but often times if they’re wading through, and they get it on their coats, and then they’re self cleaning when they get home, they can actually ingest it that way as well.”

Many of the symptoms of blue-green algae mimic the symptoms of stomach flu but can also include fever, mouth ulcers, and blistering of the lips.

If you, someone you know, or your pet are suffering from exposure to toxic blue-green algae, contact your health provider immediately or call Wisconsin Poison Center at 800-222-1222. You should also report it to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services by calling 608-266-1120 or complete the online form Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) Illness or Sighting Survey, F-02152.


Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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