Oklahoma reservoirs unsafe for swimming, but OK for drinking?

Posted in: Archived Posts, Drinking Water News, Health effects, Misc Water Issues, US Water News
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L.L. Woodard | August 2, 2011 | Yahoo News | Shared as an educational material

Blue-green algae is thriving in Oklahoma’s reservoirs this summer due to the combined factors of high heat, drought, and the resulting stagnant water, reports News9.com. Although the presence of thealgae, which can be toxic to humans and animals, prevents people from swimming in the reservoirs around Oklahoma City, News9.com advises that water treatment officials say drinking water is safe. Water treatment plants use a process that eliminates the algae from the public drinking water.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality issued a statement to the media on July 1 advising that blue-green algae had been found in some parts of Grand Lake. Currently, tests are underway for the presence of the algae in Lakes Hefner and Overholser.

The so-called blue-green algae are really bacteria, a type known as Cyanobacteria, explains the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. The bacteria can produce three types of toxins: hepatoxins, endotoxins and neurotoxins. These toxins can affect the health of humans, pets and livestock.

The Oklahoma DEQ advises many times blue-green algae is not toxic, but the only way to determine its toxicity is through laboratory testing. To identify this algae, it may look like paint or pea soup on the surface of the water and may be green, blue, brown or red in appearance. Unlike green algae which when picked up produces thin, green strings, blue-green algae generally cannot be picked up as the organisms of which it consists are so small.

If exposed to blue-green algae that is producing toxins, the most common symptoms are upper respiratory issues such as congestion, vomiting, diarrhea and eye irritation. Exposure to the toxins may come from swallowing or getting affected water in your mouth, through direct skin contact, and inhalation.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports symptoms such as sore throat, wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing may also be associated with the respiratory symptoms of exposure to blue-green algae toxins. Symptoms of exposure to the skin may include itching, rash, hives and blistering, while other miscellaneous symptoms may include earache, headache, agitation and abdominal pain.

Symptoms of exposure to this algae’s toxins in animals can include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and difficulty breathing.

The Oklahoma DEQ advises residents and visitors to avoid contact with any water where blue-green algae appears to be present. Keep pets and livestock away from contaminated water. Contact the Oklahoma DEQ via Pam Baldwin at pam.baldwin@deq.ok.gov or call (405) 702-1022 or (800) 869-1400 with concerns or sightings of the algae.

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