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 A blue-green algal bloom was discovered in West Bloomfield Township, according to the state of Michigan.

A blue-green algal bloom was discovered in West Bloomfield Township, according to the state of Michigan.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Harmful — but not toxic — algae confirmed in West Bloomfield

By: Tiffany Esshaki | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 16, 2019


OAKLAND COUNTY — As reports come in from across the country of pets dying after ingesting blue-green algae found in lakes, the Oakland County Health Division is reminding residents that the same thing could happen here if we’re not careful.

Leigh-Anne Stafford, a health officer for the Oakland County Health Division, released a statement Aug. 16 reminding residents to avoid contact with water that appears scummy, looks like spilled paint or has a green sheen with flecks, foam or clumps of icky stuff. There’s a good chance that’s an algal bloom, which can be harmful to people and, in particular, pets.

“If you see algae, avoid direct contact with it and keep pets away as well,” said Stafford in a press release. “Although algae are a natural presence in waterways, special precautions need to be followed to prevent illness.”

According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, a potentially harmful algal bloom has been spotted in Oakland County.

“We had one complaint (on a pond in West Bloomfield Township) ... and we went out and did some testing. It did test positive for cyanobacteria — blue-green algae — but it tested negative for the toxins that bacteria produces,” explained Gary Kohlhepp, an aquatic biologist with the water resources division of EGLE.

Any large, concentrated grouping of algae is called a bloom, and many of them are benign. They tend to pop up in waters with plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus and iron, which helps the organisms grow. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blooms have become more frequent in recent years due to the warmer temperatures and higher water levels caused by climate change.

Some species of algae can produce toxins that are harmful and even deadly to aquatic animals — including birds and fish — household pets and humans. Just coming into contact with harmful algal blooms, or HABs, can cause illness or worse.

According to the OCHD, people and pets can experience similar symptoms after exposure to an algal bloom, including rashes, hives or skin blisters; runny eyes and noses; sore throat; asthma and allergy-like reactions; and, in severe cases, gastrointestinal problems, abnormal liver function, kidney toxicity, weakness, numbness, difficulty breathing and more.

The best plan of action, Stafford explained, is to exercise caution around all types of algal blooms — don’t wade or play in water where blooms are present, if a smell or unpleasant taste is noticed, or if signs are posted to stay out of the water, and definitely don’t drink water from those spots. Boiling water or cooking fish found in contaminated water does not remove those lethal toxins.

Those who suspect a body of water might contain an algal bloom should report it immediately to EGLE at algaebloom@michi or by calling (800) 662-9278. If you believe you or your pet has been in contact with toxic algae, experts say you should rinse off as soon as possible and seek help from a medical professional. The OCHD offers a hotline where residents can reach a nurse on call 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays at (800) 848-5533.

But before panic sets in, Kohlhepp reminds residents that algae is part and parcel of being a Michigander.

“We’re still in the season, but I would say we’re actually seeing fewer cases than last year,” he said. “But this is the typical time of year for blue-green algae or cyanobacteria. It’s most likely to occur when you get these really hot days, a lot of sunlight and maybe not a whole lot of wind or rain, so the water just sits there kind of stagnant. Hopefully, these past couple of days when it’s been a little cooler will help slow things down.”