The mismanagement of wastewater or unsafe wastewater treatment isn’t the only threat to our water — some threats are naturally occurring!

Cyanobacteria is a common bacterium in freshwater ecosystems such as lakes, rivers and ponds. This bacterium often presents itself as a scum or film on the top of water. When left unchecked it can create toxins, or Cyanotoxins, also known as HABS.

HABS is the abbreviated term for harmful algal blooms. Due to wind and water currents, these cyanobacterial blooms sometimes come into contact with drinking water intakes at treatment plants. If not properly removed, the drinking water develops an odor, taste, color problems and as the name HABS suggests, becomes a health risk to those who consume or come in contact with it.

The EPA put out a 2015 Drinking Water Health Advisory concerning this, which said:

“Effects including gastroenteritis, and liver and kidney damage have been reported in humans following short-term exposure to cyanotoxins in drinking water. Recreational exposure to cyanobacterial blooms has been reported to lead to allergic reactions, including hay fever-like symptoms; skin rashes; and gastrointestinal distress. Animal studies have shown that long-term adverse effects from cyanotoxins include liver and kidney damage. However, more research is needed to quantify these effects.

The most common cyanotoxins that can be found in the U.S. are microcystins, cylindrospermopsin, anatoxins and saxitoxins. So, if you plan on swimming in any freshwater sights this summer, please do your research on these bacteria, and be careful!

Thankfully, the EPA has produced documents to give public water systems a framework to manage Cyanotoxins, and have also provided useful information for families to know how to protect themselves and their pets from possible harm.