Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

If the water looks and smells bad, it may be toxic

Date:
September 14, 2010
Source:
United States Geological Survey
Summary:
Earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs. In a new study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present.

Cyanobacterial accumulation at Binder Lake, IA dominated by the blue green algae Microcystis sp. with a dead fish. Total microcystin concentrations were 40 g/L measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
Credit: Image courtesy of United States Geological Survey

Earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs. In a newly published USGS study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present.

"It is commonly believed that there are no health risks associated with taste-and-odor compounds," said Dr. Jennifer Graham, USGS limnologist and lead scientist on this study. "While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins in the blooms sampled. This finding highlights the need for increased cyanotoxin surveillance during taste-and-odor events so that the public can be advised and waters can be effectively treated."

Cyanotoxins are produced by some cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria commonly form a blue-green, red or brown film-like layer on the surface of lakes and reservoirs. This phenomenon is frequently noticed in the United States during the summer, but also occurs during other seasons.

Cyanotoxins can be poisonous to people, aquatic life, pets and livestock. Removing or treating affected water can be both costly and time-intensive. Cyanotoxins are currently on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's drinking-water contaminant candidate list, and many states include cyanotoxins in their freshwater beach-monitoring programs.

"Exposure to these toxins has caused a range of symptoms including skin rashes, severe stomach upset, seizures, or even death," said Dr. Keith Loftin, USGS research chemist and environmental engineer. "Pets and livestock are most susceptible to direct exposure, but people can also be affected during recreation, by eating contaminated foods, or by drinking contaminated water that has not been treated properly."

For this study, a cyanobacterial bloom from each of 23 lakes in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Missouri was sampled and analyzed for thirteen toxins and two taste-and-odor compounds. Lakes were targeted based on a known history of cyanobacterial bloom occurrence.

Microcystins, a specific type of toxin, are often the only cyanotoxin considered when evaluating risks associated with cyanobacteria in waters used for recreation or drinking water supply. Microcystins were found in all samples; however, this study also indicates that toxins other than microcystins may be more common than previously thought.

Taste-and-odor compounds were detected in 91 percent of samples. Since toxins occurred more frequently than taste-and-odor compounds, odor alone does not provide sufficient warning to ensure human-health protection against cyanotoxin exposure.

If you think you see a harmful algal bloom, avoiding it is the first course of action. A good second step is to notify local authorities responsible for the affected area, such as a lake manager, state health department, or other relevant state agencies.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by United States Geological Survey. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jennifer L. Graham, Keith A. Loftin, Michael T. Meyer, Andrew C. Ziegler. Cyanotoxin Mixtures and Taste-and-Odor Compounds in Cyanobacterial Blooms from the Midwestern United States. Environmental Science & Technology, 2010; 100910111724026 DOI: 10.1021/es1008938

Cite This Page:

United States Geological Survey. "If the water looks and smells bad, it may be toxic." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100913132332.htm>.
United States Geological Survey. (2010, September 14). If the water looks and smells bad, it may be toxic. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100913132332.htm
United States Geological Survey. "If the water looks and smells bad, it may be toxic." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100913132332.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins