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State health department warns of toxic algae as weather warms up

Algal blooms can look and smell bad and may cause the water to appear green, reddish-brown, or...
Algal blooms can look and smell bad and may cause the water to appear green, reddish-brown, or blue. Some algal blooms are formed by species that can produce toxins.(Storyblocks)
Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 10:36 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is warning people to watch for potentially harmful algal blooms in natural, untreated rivers and lakes.

Algae and cyanobacteria are tiny plant-like organisms that, under the right conditions can overgrow in rivers, lakes, and oceans, a release from DHEC states. This rapid growth can be associated with foam, scum or thick layers of algae on the surface of water.

Algal blooms can look and smell bad and may cause the water to appear green, reddish-brown, or blue. Some algal blooms are formed by species that can produce toxins.

When they contain toxins that affect the health of people, animals and the environment, they are known as harmful algal blooms.

Emily Bores, DHEC’s HAB coordinator said people should look carefully at the water before they, their children or their pets enter it.

“If you notice a foul smell or discoloration, it’s best to err on the side of caution and stay away. Remember, when in doubt, stay out,” Bores said.

HABs are more likely to occur in late spring to early fall when water temperatures are warmer and there is increased sunlight.

You cannot tell whether or not a bloom is harmful just by looking at it, so if an algal bloom is suspected, keep yourself, others and pets away from the area. DHEC’s website states people or pets can get sick when they have contact with a harmful algal bloom by:

  • Swimming, kayaking, fishing, or wading through water
  • Breathing in tiny water droplets or mist that contains algal toxins
  • Drinking water affected by a harmful algal bloom
  • Eating seafood (fish or shellfish) affected by a harmful algal bloom

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says HABs can sicken or kill people and pets.

If you or your pets encounter water that possibly contain a HAB, immediately rinse with tap water and do not allow pets to lick themselves before they’re rinsed off. Seek immediate medical attention if illness occurs.

To notify DHEC of a bloom in the state’s lakes, rivers, streams or estuaries, contact the HAB hotline at 803-898-8374 or email the HAB Coordinator at boreseb@dhec.sc.gov.

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