Health threat from blue-green blooms extends beyond single toxin | 9/25/2018 | Staff
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As blue-green algae proliferates around the world, a University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher cautions that current municipal drinking water monitoring that focuses on a single toxin associated with the cyanobacteria blooms is likely to miss the true public health risks.

"We typically test only for microcystin in drinking water, but the toxicity risk is greater than that one toxin," said Helen Baulch, an associate professor at USask's School of Environment and Sustainability.

National - Drinking - Water - Guidelines - Treatment

National drinking water guidelines require that treatment plants test only for microcystin, the most common toxin found in blue-green blooms. Although microcystin varieties are detected fairly frequently through treatment plant monitoring, their levels rarely exceed drinking water thresholds, she said.

But using some advanced analytical chemistry that goes beyond traditional testing, her team was surprised to find other toxins in some cyanobacteria-affected lakes, with a variety of modes of action and toxicity, among them a deadly variety known as anatoxin. The concentration of these toxins was low enough not to pose a current health risk, but their presence alone concerns Baulch.

Precaution - Toxin - Risk - Sample - Location

Precaution is important, she said, because one cannot truly ascertain the toxin risk from a sample taken at one location at one time. The risk could be much higher or lower just a few meters away, or even a few hours later.

"I used to think blue-green blooms were a really interesting issue, and not one that would cause me to lose sleep at night. Now, my worry is growing," said Baulch, lead investigator on a USask-led Global Water Futures project looking at developing forecasting tools and mitigation options for diverse bloom-affected lakes.

Frequency - Severity - Blooms - Cyanobacteria - Globe

The frequency and severity of algal blooms and cyanobacteria are increasing across the globe due to higher nutrient loads—mainly phosphorus and nitrogen transported into lakes by runoff from agricultural land, and municipal effluent.

"Overlay this with changes in climate that are...
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