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Cyanobacteria – is it toxic?

Summer, it’s that time of year for sweet corn, peaches, watermelon, and pond calls! Pond calls are phone calls, emails, texts, etc. with questions that Extension Agents get on any topic related to ponds. It may be about water sampling, fish populations, or excessive weed growth. But it is the concern about harmful algal blooms (HABs) that gets the most notice and rightly so.

Blue-green algae on the surface of a lake or pond does not indicate the presence or level of potential toxins. Rebecca Hitchcock Davis, ©2020, Clemson Extension

Blue-green algae on the surface of a lake or pond does not indicate the presence or level of potential toxins.
Rebecca Hitchcock Davis, ©2020, Clemson Extension

Warm, slow-moving water with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from sources such as runoff of fertilizer, lawn clippings, leaking septic tanks, and pet waste can result in the rapid growth of algae. Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are such organisms and are naturally present in water and soils. They become problematic when a bloom begins to die and releases microcystin, a toxin harmful to humans and animals. The algae come in a variety of colors, sometimes appearing bright green like spilled paint on the water’s surface, and other times looking like a brown mat with a reddish appearance. One cannot determine if the toxin is present by its appearance alone; this requires laboratory analysis. Therefore, if you happen to see a pond with a potential harmful algal bloom (HAB), it is best to stay out of the water and keep informed of any notices about the presence of microcystin by visiting the SCDHEC link below or by calling the HAB hotline at 803-898-8374.

Limiting excess nutrients that enter our creeks, rivers, and ponds can help prevent HABs. Testing your soil before fertilizing, keeping grass clippings from going into the water, maintaining septic systems, and properly disposing of pet waste are just a few things we can do to minimize negative impacts on the soil and water. Being mindful of the consequences of our actions can help keep our waterways healthy and beautiful.

More information on cyanobacteria and practices to maintain healthy waterways is available by visiting the Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center link below.

https://www.scdhec.gov/environment/your-water-coast/harmful-algal-blooms

https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/cyanobacteria-understanding-blue-green-algaes-impact-on-our-shared-waterways/

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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