Frequently Asked Questions about Harmful Algal Blooms (HABS)
What is a HAB?
HABs are so named because many of these blooms may produce poisons (or toxins) that can cause illness, irritation or even death. While HABs are commonly referred to as “blue-green algae,” they are not true algae. They are actually cyanobacteria.
HABs have been observed worldwide including Lake Erie and other Pennsylvania waters and can occur almost anywhere: lakes, ponds, stormwater retention basins, rivers, streams, or reservoirs.
How dangerous are HABs?
Humans, pets, livestock and wildlife that come into contact with, or ingest HAB toxins can experience sickness, paralysis or even death.
What are the signs of HAB poisoning:
Humans: rashes, blisters and hives, and eye and nose irritations. If swallowed, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, numbness of lips, tingling in fingers and toes, dizziness, headache.
Pets/livestock/wildlife: staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, salivation, weakness, and vomiting.
How will I know if there is a HAB?
Check for posted HAB advisories or ask the park manager about any recent HABs because colorless toxins can still be in the water after visible blooms have faded. Confirmation of HABs can only be made under a microscope. HABs generally occur from late summer into early fall when water temperatures are warmest and an abundance of sunlight and nutrients are available.
What do HABs look like in the water?
HABs have different colors and looks. Some colors are green, blue-green, brown, black, white, purple, red and black. They can look like film, crust or puff balls at the surface, grass clippings, or dots in the water. Some HABs look like spilled paint, pea soup, foam, wool, or streaks.
What should I do if I see a HAB?
- Stay out of water that may have a HAB.
- Don’t let children or pets play in HAB debris on shore.
- After swimming/wading in water, even with no visible HABs, rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible.
- NEVER swallow untreated surface water. It may contain algal toxins or other bacteria, parasites, or viruses that could cause illness if consumed.
- Do not let pets lick or eat HAB material from their fur.
- Don’t drink/cook with suspected water. In-home treatments like boiling, chlorine bleach or water filtration units offer no protection from HAB toxins!
- See a doctor if you or your children might be ill from HAB toxins. Contact your veterinarian for sick pets.
What about fishing and other activities?
Consume minimal amounts of fish fillets from water bodies with recent HAB events. Research indicates toxin levels are highest in internal organs but can be found in fillets. At a minimum, remove the skin and wash fillets thoroughly before cooking, being sure not to use HAB affected water.
Where can I report a bloom or find more information?
Report a bloom to: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) at 814-332-6839. For more information, visit www.paseagrant.org
Dogs and HABs - a brochure produced by our partners at NY Sea Grant