May 1, 2018
Algal Blooms Harder to Control Because of Climate Change, Other Factors, Data Shows
By Tom Henry
ANN ARBOR — As toxin-producing algal blooms similar to those that foul western Lake Erie each summer continue to rise exponentially throughout the world, a growing body of scientific data is emerging that shows they are getting harder to control because of climate change, invasive species, and global trade.
Their potential long-term impact on humans also means more cancer risk — not just short-term stomach cramps and diarrhea — and there needs to be a greater research emphasis on the role of nitrogen in driving up their toxicity, according to a variety of scientific presentations made Tuesday at the University of Michigan.
Don’t assume you’re safe limiting your fish consumption or contact with the water, either.
More is being learned about inhalation of airborne particles as an exposure pathway, said Lorraine Backer, senior scientist/environmental epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health.
She said a study at two other bodies of water found a small amount of the algal toxin microcystin on nasal swabs of some participants — not enough to endanger their health, but evidence of inhalation exposure.
Jiyoung Lee, Ohio State University environmental health sciences associate professor, said she has found vegetables such as carrots and green beans are able to uptake minute levels of algal toxins when sprayed with water containing them. She also said walleye and other fish developed cancerous liver tumors in lab tests.
Ohio Sea Grant and OSU Stone Laboratory Director Chris Winslow said a research project is being assembled with Lake Erie charter boat captains to measure their airborne exposure levels while out on the water.
The presentations were made during the first day of the 2018 Science-Policy Confluence Conference organized by the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research and the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. The institute is a program headed on UM’s campus by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.