Three days ago, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality closed Utah Lake, the Jordan River, and all related canals because of something called Blue-green Algae. Over 20 dogs have been exposed and shown signs of sickness, 100 dead ducks have been discovered, and at least 330 cases of human illness have been reported. Farmers reliant on irrigation water are at risk of losing their crops. This has become a serious problem for Utah in the past week. Now 750 rivers have been tested along with 150 rivers and lakes. Liberty Park pond has been closed as a precaution, and the Utah Lake bloom covers more than 38 miles of water. But what is it, and why is it so serious?

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue green algae, pond scum, etc., is a natural part of the ecosystem of large bodies of water. When conditions are just right, it can bloom suddenly and grow rapidly, overtaking entire bodies of water. The ‘blooms’ can last for up to several weeks. While most types of these algae are harmless or even nutritionally beneficial to humans, blooms containing Aphanizomenon flos-aquae are, quite clearly, very dangerous. Currently the levels of this cyanobacteria are more than triple the threshold that the World Health Organization has deemed a risk to humans.

The following symptoms have been taken directly from the Utah Department of Health’s Website:

Human Symptoms

If you Swallowed contaminated water

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Tingling sensation
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
If you came into Skin contact with water

  • Eye irritation
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Blisters or sores
If you Breathed droplets of water

  • Nose irritation
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Asthma-like symptoms
  • Respiratory symptoms (including difficult, rapid, or shallow breathing)

Pets can become sickened as well. If your pet came into contact with any contaminated water and are experiencing the following symptoms, take them to your vet immediately. Two dogs died as a result of an algae bloom in Utah in 2013, so this is a serious matter.

Pet and Animal Symptoms

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive saliva production or drooling
  • Staggering
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Convulsions

Even using the surfaces of the contaminated waters can release toxins into the air, causing you to breathe them. Boiling the water in an attempt to kill off the contaminants actually releases them into the air. Avoiding the water is the best way to stay safe.

Identifying blue-green algae can be important to your health, as there are many types of green algae that are non-toxic. Visit http://health.utah.gov/enviroepi/appletree/HAB/#Blue_Green_Algae for images to help you identify safe algae from unsafe algae.

If you have come into contact with any of the affected areas in Utah and are feeling symptoms, visit your doctor or call poison control immediately.

The toxicity of the bloom can last several weeks, so wait for the go-ahead from officials before returning to these bodies of water. Preventative measures to prevent this happening again are already in the works. Algae blooms such as those currently in Utah waterways spread in conditions with excess phosphorous and nitrogen in the water, a result of wastewater pumped into Utah Lake by water treatment plants. Seven treatment plants funnel their water into Utah lake, and starting in 2020 they will be forced to test water for excess phosphorous and meet regulated limits. This should prevent the conditions in which this toxic algae can bloom from happening again in the future. For now, stay out of the water and call your Granger physician if you think you may have been exposed.