Officials Remind Those Recreating To Be Aware Of Possible Toxic Algae

Jun 30, 2020

Most HCBs look like paint spilled on the water's surface.
Credit Photos courtesy of DEQ

As the summer season ramps up, so does the possibility of Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms (HCBs). Also known as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria are found in many bodies of water worldwide. They're normally harmless, but when their growth explodes and forms a bloom, they can release toxic chemicals into the water around them. They can cause symptoms in people ranging from skin irritation to liver damage, and they can be deadly to animals.

Blooms happen in warm, slow-moving bodies of water, and they're more likely to form when there's been a recent increase in nutrients like from fertilizer runoff.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) monitors water bodies across the state for HCBs using satellite imagery, reports from lake management agencies, and reports from citizens.

"Usually we can tell just by visual observation, but we do collect samples to make sure or to see if there are unsafe levels of cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins. Once they do exceed those thresholds, we notify Wyoming Department of Health and they will issue a recreational use advisory," Michael Thomas said, DEQ's Watershed Protection and Surface Water Natural Resource Analyst

Green water can be an indication of HCBs.
Credit Photos courtesy of DEQ

According to Thomas, HCBs look like spilled green paint or grass clippings on the water's surface. Lindsay Patterson, DEQ's Watershed Protection & Surface Water Quality Standards Coordinator, said if you're uncertain, there's a simple test to determine if what you're seeing is an HCB.

"My recommendation would be if people go to a lake or reservoir, they're interested in recreating and they see green water, something that looks like grass clippings or spilled tea, green spilled paint in the water, they could do a simple test, called a stick test," Patterson said. "They could put a stick in the water, and then if it kind of drapes over the stick, then that would be a non-harmful type of algae that they shouldn't really worry too much about. If the material kind of breaks up, that's something that they probably would want to be more cautious of and avoid those areas."

If you believe you or a pet has been exposed to an HCB, rinse off with clean water and contact a doctor or vet immediately.

Information on current advisories and more resources can be found on the Wyoming HCB website. Individuals can also report suspected blooms there.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Ivy Engel, at iengel@uwyo.edu.