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Warming Drives Spike In Algae Blooms Across Wyoming

Wyoming Department of Health
An algae bloom sullies the Eden Reservoir in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.

So far this year, the Wyoming Department of Health has issued algae bloom advisories for 16 lakes and reservoirs across the state, a spike that mirrors the record number potentially toxic blooms across the country in 2019, as counted by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.

Booms of algae, or cyanobacteria, tend to make waters appear green and slimy. Not all of them are dangerous. "But when they do produce toxins, those toxins are really bad for humans, pets, and wildlife," said the Environmental Working Group's Anne Weir Schechinger.

Algae blooms are created when nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen-usually from agricultural runoff-mix with rain, sunlight, and heat in water. "So that's why we really think climate change has a huge impact on the currents of these blooms," Schechinger said.

"It's absolutely certain in my mind that warming temperatures are going to end up causing more of these algal blooms," Steven Chapra, an environmental engineering professor at Tufts University, told the AP last year.

As of August 27, the Environmental Working Group, by tracking news stories, had counted 354 algae outbreaks in 41 states. That's 65 more than at the same point last year. Blooms and their toxins aren't currently tracked at the federal level.

"Cyanobacteria can produce cyanotoxins and other irritants that can cause several health effects in people, pets, and livestock," warns the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. "Health effects include rashes, itching, numbness, fatigue, disorientation, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, cyanotoxins may lead to pet or livestock death."

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.


Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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