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August 7, 2012

August typically month with most report of problems related to blooms

MADISON - A new video and comprehensive article about blue-green algae will help beachgoers, dog-owners and others reduce the risk that they or their pets will get sick from the smelly, unsightly and sometimes toxic blooms found in some Wisconsin waters.

The new materials are available in time for the month that historically has brought the most reports of such problematic algae blooms.

"August has typically been when we receive the most reports because the water is usually the warmest and conditions most conducive to fueling the blooms." says Gina LaLiberte, Department of Natural Resources research scientist and statewide blue-green algae coordinator. "We've seen the blooms earlier this year and on more lakes, because of prolonged hot weather and drought, so we're not sure if calls about blooms will hold steady this August or increase."

LaLiberte hopes the new materials can be valuable tools to help people learn more about blue-green algae and help them decide when it's best to stay out of the water and keep their kids and pets out.

The new video, available on DNR's YouTube channel, WIDNRTV, features LaLiberte and Emmy Wollenburg, outreach specialist for the Department of Health Services.

LaLiberte's new article, "Algal blooms in Wisconsin," (exit DNR) was published this week and appears online in the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences Arts & Letters' Wisconsin People & Ideas Magazine. It covers the same ground as the video in greater depth and also details how climate change is affecting blooms, and how Wisconsin government is responding and what individuals can do.

Nationally and globally, problems related to freshwater-inland hazardous algae blooms are widespread and have become more prevalent in recent decades, according to a 2008 federal review mandated by the U.S. Congress, Scientific Assessment of Harmful Algal Blooms (exit DNR). For example, toxic cyanobacterial outbreaks seem to be expanding and occurring more frequently in U.S. waters and globally, a trend reflected in the increasing number of published studies and reports.

Blue-green algae in Wisconsin

Blue-green algae are found naturally in Wisconsin lakes and are an important part of the food chain. Too much blue-green algae, however, can cause health problems. Cell wall compounds in all blue-green algae can cause gastrointestinal upset if swallowed, or rashes with skin contact. Some blue-green algae can produce toxins, which cause additional health problems, Wollenburg says.

The worst illnesses are usually seen in animals like dogs, which aren't concerned about water quality and may plunge into or drink from water with significant blue-green algae blooms, Wollenburg says. "Dogs also are at risk because they may ingest algae when they groom themselves after swimming, which is why it's so important to rinse your pet with fresh clean water every time they swim in a lake, pond or river," Wollenburg says.

The Wisconsin Beach Health website provides water quality information on more than 100 Great Lakes Beaches and more than 200 inland beaches, and is a good place to start before heading to a beach. For beaches not listed on the site and even for those posted as open, Wollenburg advocates a common-sense approach: "If the water looks questionable, stay out," she says.

People who think they are experiencing symptoms related to exposure to blue-green algae -- stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing - should contact their doctor or the Wisconsin Poison Center at 800-222-1222.

If a pet displays symptoms such as seizures, vomiting, or diarrhea after contact with surface water, contact a veterinarian right away.

To report illnesses that may be related to blue-green algae, contact the Department of Health Services at 608-266-1120, or fill out an online survey on its website. Go to and search for "blue-green algae" (exit DNR).

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Gina LaLiberte, DNR (608) 221-5377; Emmy Wollenburg, DHS (608)267-3242

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 07, 2012

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