DES MOINES – A reported chemical spill on the Des Moines River above Saylorville Lake Wednesday turned out to be a blue-green algae bloom, according to DNR investigators.
“It’s the time of year we start to see algae blooms, both green and blue-green,” said Mary Skopec, of the DNR’s beach monitoring program. “The heavy rainfall and floods washed nutrients into water bodies. Once the weather turns hot, and the water is stagnant, you’ll start to see blooms around the state.”
Not all blooms are toxic, but blue-green algae can produce toxins. “The toxins are bound in the cells, so when the algae dies, it’s released to the water,” Skopec said.
The DNR tests for bacteria and algal toxins (microcystin) levels at state park beaches at least once per week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Results Thursday showed elevated levels of microcystins at Denison Beach at Black Hawk State Park. To find test results by lake, search for beach monitoring at www.iowadnr.gov or call the Beach Hotline at 319-353-2613.
Results from the Des Moines River were slightly elevated but well below levels of concern for recreation. “However, blooms can form rapidly,” said Skopec.
The Iowa DNR and Iowa Department of Public Health recommend staying away from cloudy, blue-green areas on lakes and rivers. The blooms usually float to the surface and can be many inches thick, especially near shorelines.
People can get sick from water containing blue-green algal blooms. They should avoid swimming in areas with obvious bright blue-green color. “Likewise, people should keep their livestock and pets out of those areas,” said Skopec, “because if they ingest the water or lick algae off their fur, they could have impacts on their health.”
People can get sick from intentionally or accidentally swallowing the water, by having direct skin contact (as when swimming, wading or showering) or by breathing airborne droplets (as when boating or waterskiing). Sickness from exposure to blue-green algal blooms is not contagious, and cannot spread from person to person.
The following symptoms can show up within hours or days, but normally show up within one week:
- Rash, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits).
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headaches and fever.
- Runny eyes and nose, cough, and sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms or allergic reactions.
- Exposure to large amount of the toxin from blue-green algae can cause liver damage.
People who think they’ve been exposed to the toxins should contact their health provider.