This has been a difficult year for water safety in Minnesota, from potential lead poisoning to underreported water toxicity. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about already, another concern has surfaced.
Blue-green algae is a rare toxin that has proved itself all too common in Minnesota waters. Because of its rarity, many Minnesotans have little idea that it’s becoming a pervasive issue.
Over the past 10 years, blue-green algae has been a suspected culprit in the sudden death of 18 dogs in Minnesota, including one death last August.
Last summer, two cases of human illness were related to blue-green algae poisoning.
The prevalence of this toxic organism is concerning because of its connection to climate change and because it is increasingly becoming an issue of public safety.
Blue-green algae has been linked to climate change due to its affinity for warm waters. As overall global temperatures rise, so do the temperatures of Minnesota’s lakes. As water warms, blue-green algae populations increase, and what was once a rare toxin becomes a common, thriving one.
This phenomenon largely explains why Minnesota had its first two human illness cases last summer. There continues to be more cases of pet deaths from blue-green algae poisoning.
While it is imperative that global leaders address the causes of climate disruption, there are actionable steps we can take to lessen our chances of blue-green algae poisoning.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recommends that people and their pets stay out of Minnesota lakes. Mild springtime weather makes already-ideal conditions for algae even better.
If you do choose to swim, it’s a good habit to check lake shorelines for algae before taking a plunge. If lake water is covered in film, or if it is odorous, try a different lake. Showering or washing your pets after swimming in public waters is also a wise precaution.
In the meantime, the Minnesota Department of Health must regularly test
Minnesota lakes for blue-green algae so people know which lakes¬¬ are affected. City governments should consider erecting signage at lakes to alert swimmers of particularly dangerous algae levels.
Despite its “rare” status, blue-green algae has become an issue because of the danger it poses to pet and human health. It’s crucial that people are cognizant of the toxin in order to prevent and avoid being poisoned.
As time passes, pressure to reduce our own fossil fuel emissions mounts. We must tackle climate disruption together. Blue-green algae is just one of many dangerous, local implications of climate change —it’s undeniable that Minnesota has a serious issue on its hands.
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