With the weather turning warmer and recreational activities on the state's lakes, ponds, and rivers set to increase, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are reminding all Rhode Islanders to be on the lookout for harmful algae blooms. Waters affected by harmful algae blooms will be bright to dark green in color and have dense, floating algal mats on the water's surface. The water may look like green paint, thick pea soup, or green cottage cheese.
The harmful algae blooms are caused by blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, which are naturally present in bodies of water. Increased temperatures, slow moving water, and excessive amounts of nutrients cause the cyanobacteria to grow quickly and can create colonies of growth called a bloom. These harmful algae blooms are capable of producing toxins, which have the potential to negatively impact humans and animals.
During a harmful algae bloom, all recreation, including swimming, fishing, boating, and kayaking, should be avoided. People also should not ingest untreated water or eat fish from affected waterbodies. Pets can also be affected by harmful algae blooms, so owners should not allow pets to drink or swim in this water. State and local officials work to post advisories around bodies of water when harmful algae blooms are present. However, members of the public should be on the lookout for these harmful algae blooms and know to avoid affected waters, should they encounter a bloom before advisories have been posted.
Skin contact with water containing blue-green algae often causes irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. Common health effects associated with ingesting water containing blue-green algae include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Rarer health effects include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. Young children and pets are at particular risk for health effects associated with harmful algae blooms (because they are more likely to swallow water when in or around bodies of water).
If you come into contact with water affected by a harmful algae bloom, rinse your skin with clean water as soon as possible and, when you get home, take a shower and wash your clothes. If your pet comes into contact with the water, immediately wash your pet with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off its fur. Call a veterinarian if your animal shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning including loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a day or so after being in contact with water. People who have had contact with water with algae blooms and who experience the symptoms described above should contact a healthcare provider.
To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact DEM's Office of Water Resources at 401-222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov and if possible, send a photograph of the reported algae bloom.