Harmful Algal Blooms

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) refer to toxic algae blooms, which can affect humans, pets, and ecosystems.

HABs are toxic forms of cyanobacteria that have characteristics similar to algae as well as bacteria:  they are prokaryotic like bacteria, yet undergo photosynthetic processes much like their eukaryotic algal counterparts.

They contain green and blue-green photosynthetic pigments within their cells from which they obtain their energy to function.

HABS occur in both freshwater and marine environments, and certain species can contain secondary metabolites that are toxic.

Many freshwater HABs prefer warm water and nutrient rich waterbodies. Nutrient sources such as agricultural runoff and wastewater effluent have been linked higher rates of these bacteria.

Harmful algal blooms and their toxins are an increasing concern across the continent and globally. The frequency of HAB occurrence is on the rise and cyanobacteria toxicity has been associated with human health impacts including skin rashes, gastrointestinal and respiratory disease, and liver damage. Effects can be even more pronounced (potentially even fatal) in animals ranging from cattle to dogs.

HABs have direct implications to the use of recreational waterbodies for contact recreation, the susceptibility of public water supplies to toxins, and the overall degradation of our aquatic resources.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and all NEIWPCC states have expressed continued interest in addressing issues related to HABs and cyanobacteria. In response to this need, NEIWPCC, in collaboration with EPA, has hosted three cyanobacteria workshops for participants to learn and share information about the state of science, detection methodologies and treatment techniques, monitoring protocols, and state and federal guidance and regulatory activity concerning cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins.

At a workshop in June 2013, participants expressed a desire to have a workgroup designated to cyanobacteria and HABs where they would have the opportunity to discuss these issues on a more regular basis. Soon thereafter, we formed NEIWPCC’s Harmful Algal Blooms Workgroup.

In June 2016, NEIWPCC, EPA Region 1 and launched a new smartphone app, bloomWatch that turns a phone or tablet into a scientific instrument for monitoring cyanobacteria blooms.

The smartphone app enables citizen scientists to help document potentially harmful blooms by submitting a photograph and other information from a smartphone or tablet.

For more information on any of the above, contact Jasper Hobbs, coordinator of our HABs Workgroup.

Additional Resources

NEIWPCC HAB Workgroup Documents