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April 14, 2024
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HABS MONITORING
WT Media Group to release Harmful Algal Bloom and other critical water news to local radio and print media outlets

Beginning in September 2023, WaterToday Media Group will begin distributing aggregated water data and news to local radio and print medias.

"Current federal policy identifies harmful algal blooms as one of the most complex and economically damaging aquatic issues threatening the nation's ecosystems."
- Holly Kuzmitski, Public Affairs Specialist, US Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center

Guidance from state and federal agencies is clear, HABs is a subject that demands attention.

Health Effects from Cyanotoxin Exposure:
Humans:
  • Rash, irritation, swelling, sores
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neurologic symptoms
  • Ear symptoms
Animals:
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Death
Waterbodies should be visually monitored for the presence of HABs. If there is a large temporal and spatial extent of the bloom, microscopic identification should be performed to determine the algal species causing the bloom.
If microcystins and/or cylindrospermopsin are present in large enough amounts to trigger toxin production, then cyanotoxin levels should be confirmed through laboratory testing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends microcystin cyanotoxins not exceed 8 micrograms/liter and cylindrospermopsin cyanotoxins not exceed 15 micrograms/liter in recreational waters.

Cyanotoxins may be present both before and after cyanobacteria are observed. Certain sensitive populations, such as children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, may still be at risk even at low concentrations and should avoid any exposure.2


Are we looking hard enough?
A fair question, given National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) satellite monitoring program is picking up HABs where no surface-based observation reports have been made.

After weeks of WTOH tracking and reporting NCCOS satellite imaging indicating high algal concentration at Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio state authorities picked up a microcystins spike. A sample drawn on August 4, 2023 returned a microcystins value of 680 parts per billion, 85 times the EPA safe limit for recreational water . The recreational public health advisory was issued five days later, posted on the Ohio Department of Health website August 9. Local residents informed through our reporting say they had not been otherwise notified of the high microcystins level.

NCCOS satellite imaging of parts of Louisiana shows Lake Allemands and Bayou Fortier with widespread HAB of the high concentration that produced the Lake Erie value, yet the state does not appear to have a public HABS reporting system in effect. WTLA has so far not located a public HABs notification stream. Just this week, the state of Georgia received it's first HAB report of the season. The report came in to Georgia Environmental Protection Division by email several days after the HAB was observed in mid to lower Lake Harding. It would appear the HAB report was posted by Georgia Power Lakes on social media before it was reported to the state authorities. No testing is planned at this time for Lake Harding, according to Georgia EPD spokesperson Liz Booth.

According the the National Center for Coastal Ocean Science, the satellite imaging analysis can detect a HABs bloom that for various reasons, including wind conditions, cannot be observed at the surface. Dr. Richard Stumpf, NOAA Oceanographer heads the NCCOS HABs Monitoring Program. He explains that conditions in a water body can change suddenly. When the wind direction changes and shifts a bloom mass, the microcystins toxin level can change by orders of magnitude, up to 100x higher in a matter of hours. This would indeed be a problem for those unaware of the existence of a bloom in the area.

The exception to the low reporting trend is the state of New York. WTNY reports HABs posted by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, taking in new HABs observation reports by the dozens daily. NYS has established a broad vigilance network for HABS, all reporting in to a central hub. Multiple state, county and municipal agencies, lake associations, academic institutions, Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program and the general public are working quite effectively to communicate observed blooms, such that people planning beach days have a fair chance of finding a location with clear water. At the peak of HABs season, NY may see upward of 130 HAB reports in a given week. These reports are reposted with their specific locations to the WTNY.us map.

Public Notice Delivery Gap

It has become common for government agencies, including health authorities and drinking water facilities to rely on electronic delivery of public notices. While no doubt a highly effective route for rapid communication with most citizens, we have recently seen the failure of public notification when it was needed most. In the midst of wildfire evacuations in parts of northern Canada, Emergency Management authorities found their critical public safety messaging was not delivered by the privately-owned social media enterprise they had deferred to.

Time to reengage with local news media

WT Media Group gathers HABs information on a daily basis during the bloom season in North America, tracking and reporting confirmed bloom reports from state and federal sources, including the aforementioned NCCOS satellite monitoring program. To supplement our HABs knowledge base, we present in depth interviews with the world's leading research scientists on the subject.

Look for regular water news releases on the subjects of our daily research: public drinking water advisories, HABs notices and beach alerts, hazardous spills and flood information. Aggregated water data is available at WTNY.us via secure servers with no pay wall. Water alerts short message (SMS) to mobile devices is available with a free subscription. Returning to our newsroom roots, we will also transmit water news to the local AM/FM and print medias in our sphere.


Endnotes
1. USACE Jan 23, 2023 "Remote sensing gives USACE an edge at detecting harmful algal blooms", author Holly Kuzmitski, Public Affairs Specialist, US Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center
2. Georgia Integrated Water Quality Report 2020-2022, Table 9-1, p 9-2

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