Bacteria Blooms in New Hampshire Waters

An alarming amount of cyanobacteria in New Hampshire waters has began to concern the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES). Because cyanobacteria has always been common in lakes and ponds, the DES Beach Program has always monitored the amounts. Low amounts pose little to no threat to people and animals. It’s when the numbers rise, and the algae becomes visible to not just experts, that the DES becomes alarmed.

The cyanobacteria appears in “blooms” on top of lakes and ponds when the conditions are optimal. The bacteria cells thrive in nutrient rich waters and rise to the surface. The blooms are aesthetically displeasing, often looking like spilled paint on the surface, car antifreeze, or floating bluish green chunks. They may also turn the water bright green, like pea soup, or blue-green. Blooms may also produce a septic or grassy odor and will taste unpleasant.

The bacteria is dangerous because it releases toxins, called “cyanotoxins,” when the cells die or are consumed. The amount of bacteria will vary over time, and from lake to lake. There is no known method to predict the toxin content of blooms. There is also no knowledge about whether the bacteria are a significant problem for drinking water.

The cyanotoxins have adverse health effects, including death in livestock, domestic animals and humans. The toxins attack the liver, kidney, and central nervous system, and cause skin irritation. The bacteria can cause both acute and chronic illness. Acute illnesses include skin and mucous membrane irritations and can occur after short term exposure to the bacteria. Chronic illnesses include liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage that can occur after long term exposure or ingestion.

The DES is asking residents who suspect the presence of cyanobacteria in nearby ponds and lakes to contact them immediately. Call 603-271-2457 or email beaches@des.nh.gov and the DES will conduct a site visit.

Click read more to see a list of the species of the cyanobacteria and their side effects. To see if beaches in your area are closed due to cyanobacteria, visit the DES’s Current Advisories list. And remember, don’t swim, wade, drink from, or allow pets or animals to go near ponds and lakes with red warning signs.

Genus: Anabeana
Common Toxins: Anatoxins (neurotoxin); Microcystins (hepatotoxin)
Exposure: Swimming (skin contact and ingestion of water); showering (if drawing water from a lake); water sports; boating.
Side Effects: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, general malaise, severe thirst, skin and mucous membrane irritation, staggering and paralysis.

Genus: Aphanizomenon
Common Toxins: Saxitoxins (neurotoxin)
Exposure: Swimming (skin contact and ingestion); showering (if drawing water from lake); water sports; boating.
Side Effects: Numbness of lips and mouth extending throughout the body, motor weakness, respiratory and muscular paralysis.

Genus: Microcystis
Common Toxins: Microcystins
Exposure: Swimming (skin contact and ingestion); showering (if drawing water from lake); water sports; boating.
Side Effects: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, general malaise, sever thirst, skin and mucous membrane irritation.

Genus: Oscillatoria
Common Toxins: Anatoxins; Microcystins; Aplysiatoxins (dermatotoxin)
Exposure: Swimming (skin contact and ingestion); showering (if drawing from lake); water sports; boating.
Side Effects: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, general malaise, skin and mucous irritation.

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