UPDATE: Algae Outbreaks Rise Sharply from Coast to Coast

Outbreaks of potentially toxic algae are rising sharply this summer in lakes, rivers and streams in the U.S., according to EWG’s ongoing tracking of algae outbreaks.  

When EWG last reported on the number of algae outbreaks, we counted 30 eruptions in the month of June. In the six weeks since then, 77 new outbreaks have erupted from California to New York. Through monitoring of news reports, we’ve counted 144 algae outbreaks so far this year, compared to 169 in all of last year.

EWG’s interactive algae story map shows where the outbreaks are taking place.

Many of the outbreaks have been in lakes that are hit by algae outbreaks every year, such as Utah Lake, where this week and in previous weeks health officials have urged people to keep themselves and their pets out of the water. But algae outbreaks have also erupted in places that have never experienced them before, such as Moreau Lake in New York, which was closed to recreation late last month.


Utah Lake, June 27. Satellite image from European Space Agency.

This summer’s algae outbreaks have poisoned drinking water in cities such as Greenfield, Iowa. Last month, Greenfield utility officials warned residents not to drink tap water after detecting an algae toxin called microcystin.

Beaches were closed to recreation at a Girl Scout camp in Rhode Island and at a Boy Scout camp in Florida. Health officials in Kern County, Calif., warned people not to go in the water of Lake Isabella.    


Lake Isabella, Calif., July 8. Satellite image from European Space Agency.

Algae outbreaks aren’t just a nuisance. When they produce microcystin or other toxic bacteria, they can cause sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or liver damage. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer or liver failure.

Algae breaks out when polluted runoff from farm fields or industrial sources gets into lakes, rivers and streams. Rain and heat amplify the pollutants to make the problem worse.

Trying to curb algae outbreaks through farmers and landowners’ voluntary measures to reduce runoff from fertilizer and manure has not worked. Farmers who can voluntarily add these measures can also voluntarily remove them whenever they like.  

Only requirements for conservation practices on the farm fields that contaminate water will protect Americans’ health.

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