(The Center Square) – The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is warning residents keen on recreating in the water to look out for cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, in Illinois’ waters, which can be toxic to humans and pets.
IEPA Public Information Officer Kim Biggs says Children and the elderly are most susceptible to ill effects from the algal bloom.
“Symptoms from exposure can be as mild as just a rash or hives to gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea,” she said. “Individuals who may be recreating on the water, for instance like tubing or something like that, could potentially inhale droplets could also experience some coughing and wheezing.”
There are multiple ways the algae can enter a person’s system, including skin contact, ingestion or inhalation, according to Biggs.
“That’s why we do suggest that you wash off with soap and water after you get out of the water, especially don’t eat without washing hands with soap and water after being in lake or stream water because you could ingest that way, but it could also be accidental ingestion just from taking in water from being underwater or other activities that you’re doing on the water,” she said.
After swimming in a lake or river, pets should also be washed, as they can ingest it through licking their fur, Biggs pointed out.
Biggs says the cyanobacteria are found in all of Illinois’ waters year-round, but summer is when it becomes a potential problem, as warm water encourages the growth of cyanobacteria.
“It’s only a concern when we see this rapid growth or development of these larger algal blooms that could potentially release the toxins into the water,” she said.
Biggs notes residents should look out for the algae, especially in shallow water with a lot of sun exposure.
“We see it a lot of times along the shoreline, even in dock areas where the area’s receiving a lot of sunlight and it’s more shallow rather than in open waters,” she said.
Biggs adds it can be found in lakes, streams and ponds, even on private property.
If a person experiences symptoms that cause concern, they should contact the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.