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Blue-Green Hazard

By Albert Gao


We all know that lake water is not clean, and certainly not fit for consumption. There are obviously sediments and trash. In fact, in the winter, sewage lines tend to break more often, leaking wastes into bodies of water. But if you have ever been to Rock Creek Regional Park in the summer, you may have seen warnings posted about avoiding contact with the water due to blue-green algae. Even if you abide by the rules, you may still be at risk of illness.

Blue-green algae are actually a type of cyanobacteria, which bloom in the summer due to a combination of warm temperature, abundant sunlight, and runoff fertilizer. Blooms cause an increase in population, increasing the production of microcystin.

The danger lies in the fact that microcystin is a toxin that primarily affects the liver, although it can affect all organ systems. This can cause the deaths of specialized epithelial cells, which make up 80% of liver mass, through apoptosis. In addition, microcystin promotes cancers. You can get sick from swallowing water, touching water, or breathing air droplets containing microcystin.

Microcystin poisoning can result in many symptoms, including rashes, hives, and blisters. Runny eyes and nose, coughs, sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms may also occur if lake water is swallowed. Unfortunately, symptoms may take hours or days to manifest.

How can you stay safe? It is important to:

  1. Remember to practice catch-and-release while fishing.

  2. Keep pets from playing or drinking lake water.

  3. Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after boating.

With this in mind, remember to take precautions the next time you go to Rock Creek in the summer.

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