Jayme Carlton English Comp 101

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Jayme Carlton

English Comp 101

Dr. M

Toxic Algae

Imagine that you’re sitting on a beach, there is a cool breeze and a warm sun. Nothing could be better than that, unless there were some dolphins doing some cool tricks against the sunset. Alas, there are no dolphins and no beaches because your trip, was cancelled. Why was it cancelled, you may ask? It was cancelled because of a large harmful algae bloom or HAB outbreak along the West Coast. HABs are an excess of growth that produce toxins.

Toxic algae has plagued the Earth since it was created, but where exactly do these blooms come from and what do they do? Well it can happen when normal algae growth grows out of control and produce harmful toxins. Now two questions arise, one: what makes them grow out of control, and two: what do these harmful toxins do? In this essay I will answer these two questions. I will also discuss what happens to the economy when there is a toxic algae outbreak and what kind of impact that it has on families.

A dog is swimming in the river, and there was a sign posted that said no swimming.
Toxic algae has been around long before humans inhabited the Earth now that does not mean we have not helped contribute to the excess growth. According to Environmental Leverage, the factors that influence algae growth are: sunlight, excess nutrients, and excess BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand), aeration and excess levels of CO2. Humans contribute to the excess CO2 by; burning coal, oil, gases and deforestation. The BOD is the amount of dissolved oxygen needed to by aerobic biological organisms to break down organic material. This is important because it tells you which ecosystems will be able to support life. (Linda S. Magenis, editor of Rensselaer)

Some studies have shown that “overfeeding” is linked to HABs, and this occurs when nutrients (mainly CO2, phosphorus, and carbons) leaks into the water supply, feeding the algae that is already living there. (Ocean Service, NOAA) Outbreaks can also be caused from excess rainfall, causing the running water to become sluggish, and not circulate correctly. Acid rain, caused by nutrient pollution in the air, damage rivers, lakes, streams and oceans.

This is a diagram of what happens to create toxic algae and hypoxic dead zones.
This can have a negative impact on the ecosystem, and it can also hurt the economy. Toxic algae can create dead zones in oceans and lakes, it can sicken and even kill people and animals, and it raises treatment cost for Drinking water plants. A dead zone is hypoxic, meaning low oxygen, areas in oceans and lakes. These zones are caused by “excessive nutrient pollution from human activities among other factors that deplete the oxygen required to support most Marine life. (NOAA) There are over 166 documented dead zones nationwide, affecting the Gulf of Mexico, and the Chesapeake bay to name a few. Although the Gulf of Mexico is the largest dead zone reported. In 2013 it was reported that over 5,840 square feet of the Gulf was a dead zone.

This is a compare and contrast to what this river looked like before the bloom and what it looks like now.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, direct exposure to toxic algae can cause: rashes, stomach or liver illness, respiratory problems and even some neurological problems. This can come from touching, drinking or inhaling the fumes that toxic algae gives off. There is a component in toxic algae called nitrates which are more commonly found in fertilizer, if ingested by a young child, will make them severely ill, and may kill them. The symptoms could include shortness of breath, and blue tinted skin which is also known as Blue Baby Syndrome.

This is an aerial view of Lake Erie on July 28, 2015 during the biggest outbreak of toxic algae that they had. Left 500,000 people without tap water.
We try and treat the water at water treatment plants but there are some complications and side effects to this method. When disinfectants used to treat water react to the toxic algae, harmful chemicals called dioxins can be created. These are linked to reproductive and developmental health risks and even cancer. The symptoms that humans receive from Red Tides and blooms are: coughing, sneezing, skin irritations, burning eyes and repertory issues (higher risk if you’re asthmatic.) Although you can swim during certain tides and blooms, it is not recommended, and if you do, you are asked to wash off with fresh water. This is the effect that toxic algae has on humans, but it also affects the ecosystem, but in what way? (Environmental Protection Agency, EPA) “Nutrient pollution fuels the growth of harmful algae, which devastates the aquatic ecosystem.” (EPA) TIME magazine had wrote a story 45 years ago about the toxic algae outbreak in Lake Erie, and they blamed it on dissolved phosphorus caused from agricultural farm lands. Every couple of years there is a new outbreak, but the most recent was from July 28, 2015. This is an aerial view of what the low level algae outbreak looked like, but even though it was considered lower level, it left 500,000 people unable to drink their tap water. Drinking the water could have made them very ill or could have resulted in someone dying.

There are many different colors of Toxic Algae outbreaks, such as red, and blue green, brown and green. The most toxic of these algae is the Red Tide, and it can cause some serious damage. The most common type of algae is the Cyanobacteria, or commonly known as the Blue-Green Algae. In Ohio, these are found mostly in slow moving water, or small ponds. Though this algae is not actually toxic, it causes algae to become toxic, by taking the oxygen out of the water. According to Dr. Richard Stumpf, who graduated with his PhD in Marine studies and in Environmental Education from the University of Delaware, “Swim in it [Lake Erie] and at a minimum, your intestines will be hurting.” He is in charge of studying the toxic algae blooms that occur in Lake Erie, and he determined that toxic cyanobacteria was the cause of the large ouleading cause of this most recent outbreak.

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