Most of the air we breathe comes from algae and other aquatic organisms that have been photosynthesizing sunlight into oxygen for a billion years. But not all algae are life-giving. Blue-green algae contain a powerful class of toxins called cyanotoxins. When these algae form blooms — rapid accumulations of algae in fresh or marine water — they can damage ecosystems and cause vomiting, fever, headache, neurological problems, and even death in humans and animals.
These poisonous organisms have been cropping up a lot lately. Beaver Lake in Asheville, North Carolina, was closed last week after local officials found toxic algae in the water. Three dogs died from playing on a beach suspected to be contaminated with toxic algae on the Columbia River in Washington state last month. In California, the Bureau of Land Management closed a 28-mile stretch along the Merced River after water samples south of where a family of hikers mysteriously died in August showed high levels of toxic algae. These types of incidents are not rare. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that toxic algae sent more than 300 Americans to the emergen... Read more