According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) HABs are common in most Ohio lakes. They grow thick by feeding on phosphorus from manure, fertilizers and sewage that rain washes from farm fields into nearby streams. HABs have colors that are green, blue-green, brown, black, white, purple, red and black. They can look like film, crust or puff balls at the surface and may look like grass clippings or dots in the water. Some harmful blooms look like pea soup, foam, wool, streaks or green cottage cheese curd. (Photo submitted)
According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) HABs are common in most Ohio lakes. They grow thick by feeding on phosphorus from manure, fertilizers and sewage that rain washes from farm fields into nearby streams. HABs have colors that are green, blue-green, brown, black, white, purple, red and black. They can look like film, crust or puff balls at the surface and may look like grass clippings or dots in the water. Some harmful blooms look like pea soup, foam, wool, streaks or green cottage cheese curd. (Photo submitted)

Summer is the prime time for recreation at Ohio State Parks and unfortunately the growth of harmful algal blooms (HABs), toxin-producing bacteria that can cause illness, irritation and sometimes even death in pets, livestock and humans.

Harmful algal blooms are not algae at all. They are made up of cyanobacteria, which are also called “blue-green algae,” and many species can generate toxins that impact people.

Currently in Ohio, Grand Lake Saint Marys and Buckeye Lake State Park have Recreational Public Health Advisories posted due to the high toxin levels emitted by the harmful blooms. Grand Lake Saint Mary’s Park Manager Brian Miller said samples of lake water are tested weekly and an analysis is performed every other week.

“When the algal blooms die off, they create Microcystin toxins which are not seen with the naked eye,” he explained. “What you can see in dead-end back waters are areas that look as if there is a scum or pigments of green and blue on top of the water.”



According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, HABs are common in most Ohio lakes. They grow thick by feeding on phosphorus from manure, fertilizers and sewage that rain washes from agricultural fields into nearby streams. HABs have colors that are green, blue-green, brown, black, white, purple, red and black. They can look like film, crust or puff balls at the surface and may look like grass clippings or dots in the water. Some harmful blooms look like pea soup, foam, wool, streaks or green cottage cheese curd.

OEPA Media Coordinator Dina Pierce said the World Health Organization’s standard for Microcystin toxins is set at 20 parts per billion (ppb).
“Ohio’s extra conservative six ppb threshold covers individuals who are elderly or very young and people with compromised immune systems that swimming or wading is not recommended,” she said.

Pierce explained HABs can occur almost anywhere there is water; lakes, ponds, storm water retention basins, rivers, streams or reservoirs.
Miller said the lake has algal blooms all year long and with the warmer season, they will increase.

“If an individual would visit one of the beaches today, they will not see that scum or “spilled paint” looking pigmentation on the water,” he explained. “Instead, there is a green tint to the water.”

The most recent results from the OEPA show on June 3, Grand Lake Saint Marys’ level of Microcystin toxins 20-22 times higher than the state threshold. The areas tested include: East Beach, 126.8 ppb; State Park Camp Beach, 122.4 ppb; West Beach, 130.4 ppb; and Windy Point Beach, 135.2 ppb.

“With all these tests, they are a snapshot in time,” Miller explained. “Things can change very rapidly with varied environmental factors.”

Three beaches at Buckeye Lake were tested on June 9 and were found to have elevated levels of Microcystin toxin resulting in these findings: Brooks Park Beach, 7.5 ppb; Fairfield Beach, 3.3 ppb; and Crystal Beach, 19 ppb.

“The Western Basin of Lake Erie — stretching from Detroit, Michigan, to the Toledo and Sandusky areas have had harmful algal bloom issues for several years,” Pierce explained. “It’s a symptom of the phosphorus watershed from Northwest Ohio.”

She added that the Auglaize and Blanchard rivers drain into the Maumee River, where there is a lot of sediment and run-off, both from farmlands and residential sewage overflows, which aggravate the elevated algae issues at Lake Erie.

More than 40 freshwater species of HAB-forming cyanobacteria are known to make toxins. The three main classes of toxins produced by cyanobacteria are nerve toxins (or neurotoxins), liver toxins (or hepatotoxins); and skin toxins (or dermatotoxins), which may cause itching, rashes or other allergic reactions.

If a person touches the blooms, swallows water with toxins or breathes in water droplets, they could get a rash, have an allergic reaction, get a stomach ache or feel dizzy or light-headed. These toxins may affect the liver, nervous system and/or skin. The blooms are also toxic to pets.

“Before visiting a state park, people can exercise due diligence and visit educational websites like the OEPA’s Algae 101,” Miller said.

He said travel and tourism was impacted when the first advisory was put up in 2009. At this time, people are fishing and boating and there is a lot of boat traffic going on.

“As for fish consumption, I recommend people use fish consumption guidelines,” he said. “Fillets have been tested and the algae issue does not affect consumption. What will affect consumption is mercury or PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl).”

Many HAB-forming organisms are native to Ohio but only cause problems when environmental conditions — often human-induced conditions — favor them. Lake Erie’s most prevalent HAB-forming organisms include Anabaena, Aphanizomenon and Microcystis (this trio is sometimes known as “Annie, Fannie and Mike”).

There are several common, often visible cyanobacteria that make up HABs in Ohio:

• Microcystis are globular colonies that can adjust their buoyancy to move up and down through the water column and is the most dominant cyanobacteria in Ohio’s Lake Erie waters;

• Anabaena are colonies of hair-like filaments that can be planktonic or form mats along the bottom or near shore;

• Aphanizomenon are colonies of planktonic filaments that often bundle together and is sometimes sold as a dietary supplement. Consuming the supplement could be dangerous since the supplement is not regulated and may contain cyanobacterial toxins;

• Cylindrospermopsis are colonies of planktonic filaments that distribute through the water and are teardrop-shaped cells. A recent invader to Ohio’s Lake Erie waters and Buckeye Lake;

• Lyngbya are colonies of clustered filaments, usually visible to the naked eye that often form dense mats along the bottom that float to the surface later in the growing season. One of Ohio’s recently problematic species (specifically Lyngbya wollei, also known as Plectonema wollei), especially on Maumee Bay near Toledo;

• Nostoc are colonies of filaments that usually clump into a green, gelatinous, “marble-like” ball. Sold as a dietary supplement and consumption could be dangerous since the supplement is not regulated and may contain cyanobacterial toxins; and

• Planktothrix are colonies of planktonic filaments that distribute through the water which have dominated recent HABs on Grand Lake St. Marys and is very common to Ohio’s inland lakes and reservoirs.