Note: this tool was not developed or funded by NCCOS. This post is here for situational awareness.
Scientists have designed a screening tool that provides a fast, easy and relatively inexpensive way to predict levels of a specific toxin in lakes that are prone to blue-green algal blooms.
Blue-green algae is not your average pond scum – rather than consisting of plant-like organisms, blue-green algae actually are cyanobacteria, and some species are linked to the production and release of the toxin microcystin into the water. Human exposure to the toxin through drinking or recreational water contact can threaten public health by causing liver damage, neurological problems and gastrointestinal illness in humans.
The Ohio State University researchers devised a tool that would allow inland lake beach managers to test water samples for the existence of a pigment called phycocyanin – the substance that gives blue-green algae their distinctive color. Measures of the pigment level combined with an assessment of the water’s transparency provide strong clues as to whether microcystin is at high enough levels to threaten health.