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Massive Green Algae Outbreak a Threat on Lake Erie as Waters Warm

Ohio state officials released the first beach advisory on July 23 after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a June 2014 report predicting a significant threat to Lake Erie due to harmful algal blooms (HAB).

The blooms are a malignant type of cyanobacteria that crowd water areas, typically late in the summer to early fall for the Great Lakes region.

When the toxic algae blooms in a massive outburst, water conditions can prove unsafe for swimmers and animals.

Lake Erie endured an extreme bloom in 2011 that turned waters a putrid green and closed beaches due to health risks. Researchers expect 2014 blooms to be milder, though public safety could still be impacted.

A Recreational Public Health Advisory was issued at Maumee Bay State Park on Lake Erie on July 23, warning swimmers, especially children, elderly or those with compromised immune systems, that waters are at an elevated toxin level. Technically, swimming is still allowed in such waters, though it could prove to be adverse to health concerns.

Higher temperatures can be a contributing factor to an increase in blooms, according to Professor and Director at the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan Don Scavia. However, he explained that the key factor is the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lakes from agricultural watersheds.

When an excess of minerals, such as phosphorus, and other factors such as higher temperatures, the mix can create hazardous conditions.

According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the primary sources of nutrient pollution are runoff of fertilizers, animal manure, sewage treatment plant discharges, storm water runoff, car and power plant emissions and failing septic tanks.

The expanding amount of phosphorus can be a factor when researchers predict HAB amounts. Scientists are hoping to minimize the damage caused by the blooms with help from the tools used to forecast threat levels.

Researchers used 12 months of nutrient flow data to yield a prediction model.

"NOAA, Ohio Sea Grant, OSU, Heidelberg University and University of Toledo are developing tools to predict and target phosphorus, which will help in the fight to restore balance to Lake Erie's ecosystem, Ohio's greatest natural resource," U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur said in a press release.

Along with health burdens, the blooms can create economic despair as it takes serious money to keep the public safe.

"When the blooms get close to water intakes, the treatment costs go up to protect human health. The blooms are also unsightly and significantly negatively impact tourism and recreational fisheries," Scavia said.

Blooms will become an increasing concern as temperatures rise for the duration of the summer. Residents are urged to monitor water threats with the Ohio EPA website, heed beach signs and be on alert for green water.