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Boaters Beware: Iowa DNR Expects Another Record Year of Toxic, Blue Green Algae Blooms

Rob McLennan
A blue green algae bloom

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is expecting another summer boating season full of toxic, blue green algae blooms. There were a record number of beach closures in 2015 in Iowa, and the DNR is expecting this year to be the same or worse. 

The blooms release microcystin, which is a toxin released by cyanobacteria. The toxin can kill pets and cause rashes and flu like symptoms in humans.

As the weather heats up this week, Mary Skopec, beach monitoring coordinator for the Iowa DNR, says that we’ll likely start to see algal blooms that lead to beach closures.

“With the forecasted temperatures by the end of the week, we’ll really start to see some of these blooms popping,” she says. “We probably won’t see advisories this week, but we will next week. Current beach closings are due to e coli bacteria.”

The state tests for algae and bacteria weekly and posts their results here. Skopec says that if you’re looking to escape the summer heat this weekend by jumping into one of Iowa’s lakes or rivers, check the water and postings around the beach first.

If the water looks very green and scummy, or if it’s blue-green in color, use the adage, 'better safe than sorry, when in doubt, stay out,'” she says.

During this hour of River to River, Skopec talks with host Ben Kieffer. State toxicologist Stu Schmitz, and Peter Thorne, professor and head of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, also join the conversation.

The state started tracking for microcystin poisoning as a part of a pilot program a few years ago. Schmitz says between 2-10 Iowans on average fall ill to the toxins every year. If you start to feel ill after going swimming, Schmitz says it is important to report it and get checked out.

“With the blue green algae toxins, you have more dermatological issues, skin rashes,” he says. “There can be some concerns for the liver if you had ingested a large amount of the water.”


Water QualityEnvironment
Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River