Illinois health officials tracking, warning of dangers from potentially toxic algal blooms

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Department of Public Health have issued an urgent reminder to use caution on waterways due to harmful algae blooms. 

Blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, can be found naturally in lakes, ponds and streams. Blooms can arise from the rapid growth of cyanobacteria during warmer weather, sunlight and high levels of nutrients.

Although most blooms are not dangerous, a few have the ability to generate toxic chemicals that can cause illness or severe health effects in individuals who have been exposed.

The Illinois EPA’s 2024 program for Harmful Algal Blooms includes extensive inspections of lakes and beaches throughout the state. A team assigned to event response investigates credible reports of a potential bloom. The EPA accepts credible reports, with observations and pictures of blooms being the most effective evidence.

An online dashboard was created by the state’s EPA in 2023 to showcase data from the public Illinois Bloom Report Form, featuring a map of reported blooms that have been investigated and confirmed.

Upon confirmation of a bloom that produces toxins, officials are obligated to post signage alerting people to avoid contact with contaminated water. Keep in mind some blooms are not reported to state officials.

Steer clear of any body of water resembling spilled green or blue-green paint, with a crust or discoloration along the shoreline, green streaks, suspended green blobs below the surface or a surface covered in film and scum.

People often encounter algal toxins during water-related recreational activities. Seniors, children and individuals with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to health issues caused by algal toxins. The most frequent encounters with blooms occur when individuals have direct contact with their skin, inhale water droplets while participating in activities such as skiing or tubing, or consume contaminated water.

Common symptoms of exposure may involve diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, wheezing, hives and rashes. Increased exposure can lead to more severe symptoms.

If you suspect your symptoms are connected to algal toxins, get in touch with your healthcare provider or contact the national Poison Center Helpline at 1-800-222-1222.

It’s also important to keep pets away from water that could be contaminated with cyanobacteria. Make sure your pets avoid drinking the water, swimming in the water or licking themselves if they encounter water with the blooms.

Rinse with clean water as soon as possible if either you or your pets have come into contact. Pets displaying symptoms might have been exposed and should be taken to a veterinarian.

The good news is, the presence of contaminated bodies of water doesn’t impact nearby activities. But if you come into contact with water or debris on the shore, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water before eating.


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