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Cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae)

Washington State Department of Health - Cyanobacteria were previously grouped with algae but are now classified as bacteria after analysis of cell structure and cell division. They differ from other bacteria in that they contain photosynthetic pigments similar to those found in algae and plants. Although they are predominantly photosynthetic (light-dependent) organisms, they are also capable of using organic compounds as a source of energy. Some cyanobacteria have a specialized structure called a heterocyst that can fix molecular nitrogen. The ability to fix nitrogen gives these species a competitive advantage over other algae. Many cyanobacteria have gas vacuoles that allow them to remain in suspension and migrate to surface waters where there is plenty of light for photosynthesis. On the surface, colonies may clump together and form a scum which can cause water quality problems in lakes.

Washington State's slide show on Ecology's Freshwater Algae Program - just click on full screen and right arrow to view

Freshwater Algae Control Program - Washington State Department of Ecology
In 2005, the Washington State Legislature established funding for an algae control program and asked the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) to develop the program. Reducing nutrient input to lakes is the only long-term solution to prevent algae blooms.

To learn about cyanobacteria and microcystin, search Google for "Microcystin Recreational Guidance Levels"

Recreational guidance levels for microcystin, a known liver toxin that can be produced by cyanobacteria:
State of Washington - 6ppb
State of Vermont - 6ppb
State of Oregon - 8ppb

ppb - parts per billion

It is important to note that cyanotoxins produced by cyanobacteria can remain in the water for up to two (2) weeks after a bloom has vanished.

Protecting children
Oregon’s guidance value of 8ppb for microcystin was derived using 20 kg as the default child body weight.
Posting is intended to provide the public with information that indicates a public health hazard might exist. A further notice should warn that children, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, and the elderly (and pets) are considered susceptible populations.
(The States of Washington and Vermont use 15 kg as the default child body weight.)

• Oregon Department of Human Services - Cyanobacteria advisories

• See the Devils Lake Water Improvement District's Water Quality page
CYANO-WATCH: The Devils Lake Water Improvement District is embarking on its fourth year of the CYANO-WATCH program. A three pronged approach, the Cyano-Watch program is designed to educate about (GREEN), caution (YELLOW) or restrict (RED) the use of Devils Lake. See the sample flyers that are posted during Phases I, II, and III of the program. This program has been developed based on Oregon DHS: Public Health Advisory Guidance for Toxigenic Cyanobacteria in Recreational Waters.
This year DLWID will be conducting routine toxicity monitoring in conjunction with the identification and enumeration done in years past. The season when cyanobacteria flourish is generally July - September, so lake users should be aware of precautions to be taken when bloom conditions exist. Always watch and stay clear of cyanoblooms or scummy water, keeping both children and pets safe.

• CDC Harmful Algae Bloom-related Illness and Surveillance System (HABISS), a database that includes toxicity and public health information.

• North American Lake Management Society blue-green algae pages -


• 3/94 and 2004 - Bathymetry (Depth) map - Joe Eilers with MaxDepth Aquatics, Inc. - lake core sediment analysis for algae species. Noted that cyanobacteria increased in the lake sediment following the introduction of grass carp. PADL had Joe Eilers speak at a Saturday annual meeting where he mentioned studies linking cyanobacteria and Alzheimer's in a Guam study. (see links below)

Blue-green algae deterrent methods considered - SolarBee explored
• 4/6/06 - Joe Eilers spoke about deterring the growth of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria)
at the DLWD meeting. Ray Smith, Regional Manager of SolarBee, a Solar-Powered Circulator also spoke. see

8/10/06 - Per PADL's request the Devils Lake Water Improvement District posted the Oregon Department of Human Services' blue-green algae health concerns information sheet at: Regatta, Holmes, Campground, Sand Point and East Devils Lake State Park.
Please read the state's blue-green algae health concerns download pdf.
State's blue-green algae advisories -

• 8/06 - Lake Oswego algae deterent - DLWID contacted Lake Oswego and received pictures of a boat built to skim the water for debris, but not algae. An aquatic weed harvester is used. Alum is used to help deter algae.

• 6/5/09 -
Dr. Ken Kaufman, Oregon Department of Human Services, Environmental Health Specialist, Environmental Toxicology Program, 800 NE Oregon Street, Portland OR 97232 , Tele: 971-673-0435 ext.30435, Fax: 971-673-0457,
One and two week advisories after an algal bloom
" Toxin levels often increase after the bloom visually begins to decline; because the toxins are held inside the algal cells and are released when the cells die and disintegrate. This is why our assessment policy says that advisories should remain in place for one week after measured toxin levels fall below the danger threshold; and two weeks after the concentration of toxigenic algal cells decline below the danger threshold."

• 6/5/09 - Dr. Ken Kaufman on Cyanobacteria monitoring test accuracy - ELISA
"I said I believe the district personnel (Paul Robertson at the Devils Lake Water Improvement District) are using ELISA test products that are sensitive and accurate. When they measure a specific toxin and its concentration, I said, I believe the findings are accurate for the time and location of the sample. This is a well-tested and widely used testing technique."

ELISA - Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, also called ELISA, enzyme immunoassay or EIA, is a biochemical technique

• 6/5/09 - Dr. Ken Kaufman on Cyanobacteria for persons at risk
" We tend to hear and believe what appeals to our own views and understandings. I think we need to do good work, solidly based and explain it as well as we can. That won't necessarily convince everyone; but we hope it will be accepted by the majority of persons who are at risk."

• 11/5/09 - DLWID manager Paul Robertson report - "at the 8ppb threshold we shouldn't see any illness related to microcystin in people unless they ingest more than about a pint of water for someone average size or about a 1/2 cup for an average 45 pound 8 yea
r old. This is at 8ppb! If the concentration is 40ppb then that 1/2 cup of lake water (gulp) in the same child would exceed the deemed daily, safe consumption limit by five-fold. This is when potentially the liver and excretory system could be overwhelmed by the toxin and liver damage could occur. What is important to note is that for acute poisonings (deaths) in dogs, it is not microcystin that is the lethal toxin, but anatoxin. This is a much more potent toxin readily associated with many cyanobacteria, some of which are notably found in Devils Lake (Anabaena). We, nor do many others, test for anatoxin as the test kits are not available due to restrictions with Homeland Security following the 911 tragedies and/or the cost of out sourcing is mostly prohibitive (hundreds of dollars per sample). It may be warranted to absorb some of these costs as this toxin is potentially a greater concern. Guidelines for Anatoxin in Oregon are that samples should not contain greater than 1ppb.


Lake Wide - A Voice for Quiet Waters
The Oregon Lakes Association Newsletter - June 2010
Oregon Lakes Association Hosts Harmful Algae Bloom Workshop at OSU
By Karen Williams, OLA PResident, ODEQ NW Basin Coordinator

Spring blue-green algae blooms at Jackson County's Willow Lake and Lost Creek Lake have already prompted health advisories, with implications for both recreation and drinking water. As we begin to tally up blue-green advisories for the season, we can at least count ourselves fortunate to have dedicated staff at the Oregon Department of Human Services – Public Health Division, an established Harmful Algal Bloom Surveillance state program, and elite academic expertise within our borders.

With the help of several partners, OLA coordinated a technical workshop at Oregon State University in late May about Harmful Algae Blooms. Jennifer Ketterman, coordinator of the DHS HABS Program, was instrumental in securing funding that allowed OLA to offer this workshop for a relatively low registration fee. Last year, OLA welcomed to its membership, world renowned cyanobacterial toxicologist and Wright State University professor emeritus Dr. Wayne Carmichael, who led the two-day workshop. Dr. Theo Dreher, chair of the OSU microbiology department, offered his laboratory space and equipment, the assistance of several of his students, and his own expertise in genetic identification of cyanobacteria.

Workshop registrants represented a subset of the community OLA aims to serve: staff and managers from state and federal agencies, lake managers, public drinking water providers, university researchers, watershed councils, utility companies, and consultants. As with all OLA gatherings, the professional networking proved valuable, especially as we grapple with the interdisciplinary and interagency aspects of managing HAB monitoring, analysis, and communication.

The technical presentations and laboratory work made for a packed two days. Dr. Carmichael adeptly covered a vast topical range including chemistry and health effects of algal toxins, biology of toxin producing algae, treatment strategies, sampling considerations, and analysis methods for measuring toxins. Jennifer Ketterman and Casey Lyon, DHS drinking water specialist, presented an overview of HAB occurrences in Oregon, DHS tracking and reporting of HAB, and DHS communications with drinking water providers. Dr. Theo Dreher presented a glimpse of his laboratory's research into the genetic identification of cyanobacteria.

Workshop participants spent an afternoon in the laboratory gaining hands-on experience with algae identification and measuring toxins. Dr. Dreher's laboratory assistants had set up 35 microscopes and assortment of samples. Workshop participants were tasked with identifying the algae in the samples by working through a dichotomous key. Dr. Dreher's laboratory assistants had set up 35 microscopes and an assortment of samples. Workshop participants were tasked with identifying the algae in the samples by working through a dichotomous key. Drs. Carmichael and Dreher then presented the theory behind the toxin measuring kits, all based on the ELISA method (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Kits are available to measure microcystin, saxitoxin, and cylindrospermopsin, but unfortunately, not yet anatoxin. With about 20 minutes of sample preparation, one can obtain at least a rough estimate of toxin concentration, if toxin is present at all. A "dipstick" paper kit allows an assessment "between 1 and 5 micrograms/liter" or "greater than 5 micrograms/liter, "but often that may be sufficient information for a lake manager to proceed with more intensive sampling or more expensive analysis. An investment of another 20 minutes and visual comparison with standard samples in test tubes will gain the lake manager somewhat greater precision. With a spectrophotometer, one can quantify these tube samples at a level comparable with results from ELISA plate kits. Dr. Dreher's lab assistants demonstrated the multiple dilutions and replicates necessary for an accurate plate kit analysis.

Watch the OLA website for the technical presentations, reference list, and analytical kit information from the Workshop. Not an OLA member? Visit and join the community of lake advocates.




• Oregon Department of Human Services -
Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance
Educational materials
Cyanobacteria advisories

• North American Lake Management Society

• Oregon Lakes Association - technical presentations, reference list, and analytical kit information

• See the Devils Lake Water Improvement District's Water Quality page

• Cyanosite at Purdue University


Lake Closures and cyanobacteria
• 9/18/09 - Lacamas and Round lakes in Washington State closed due to algae blooms. Summertime closures are relatively common at Vancouver Lake and even at Klineline Pond.

Linking Cyanobacteria to Alzheimer's, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Parkinson's disease and supranuclear palsy
• 6/7/09
- New Hampshire lake linked to ALS cases, Union Leader article by Kristen Senz - The risk of developing Lou Gehrig's Disease is 25 times higher than the norm for people who live around Mascoma Lake, according to researchers studying the possibility of a link between lake bacteria and neurological illness.
• 6/8/09 - Washington State Department of Ecology Freshwater Algae Program on behalf of Kathy Hamel (ECY) on using caution until more studies about potential link between cyanobacteria neurotoxins and neurological disease such as Alzheimer's.
• 7/09 - Texas - Biologists at the Institute for Ethnomedicine, led by Director Paul Alan Cox, believe they’ve found the culprit for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and other “tangle diseases” including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and supranuclear palsy. The tiny neurotoxic molecule BMAA (?-N-methylamino-L-alanine) is produced by blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) found worldwide.
• University of Miami Medical School -
• Blue Water Satellite at

Grass Carp and cyanobacterial toxin microcystin-LR effects on immune function
• 5/29/09
- Effects of cyanobacterial toxin microcystin-LR on the transcription levels of immune-related genes in grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella
Lili Wei1, 2, Baojian Sun1, MingXian Chang1, Yi Liu1 and Pin Nie1 Contact Information
(1) State Key Laboratory of Freshwater Ecology and Biotechnology, and Laboratory of Fish Diseases, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, Hubei Province, 430072, China
(2) College of Animal Science and Technology, Jiangxi Agricultural University, Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, 330045, China
Received: 10 November 2007 Accepted: 1 May 2009 Published online: 29 May 2009
Abstract Recent studies in mammals have revealed that the cyanobacterial toxin MC-LR suppresses immune functions. Nevertheless, immunotoxic effects of microcystins have been little studied in fish. In this paper, we present the profiles of the immune modulation of MC-LR in grass carp, and quantitative real-time PCR methodology was developed for the measurement of relative transcription changes of six immune-related genes in the spleen and head kidney of the grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella, which were intraperitoneally injected with 50 ?g MC-LR·kg-1 body weight in a three-week period. This study was focused exclusively on gene transcription level changes at different time points after MC-LR exposure, so, only one dose was given. The investigated genes were interleukin-1? (IL-1?), tumor necrosis factor-? (TNF-?), type I interferon (Type I IFN), peptidoglycan recognition protein-L (PGRP-L), immunoglobulin M (IgM) and major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) genes. The results demonstrated that the transcription levels of the TNF-?, type I IFN, and PGRP-L genes in the spleen and head kidney were significantly low at all time points, and those of IL-1? were significantly low in the head kidney at different time points. In addition, IgM and MHC-I transcription levels were only significantly low in the spleen and head kidney at 21 d postinjection. The changes in the transcription levels of immune-related genes induced by MC-LR confirmed its effect on inhibiting immune function at the transcription level.
Keywords Grass carp - Immune-relate genes - Microcystin-LR - Immunotoxicity - Quantitative real-time PCR

Breathing air and cyanobacteria
How can I be exposed? - You can be exposed to cyanobacteria and cyanobacterial toxins by swimming or drinking water where cyanobacteria are present. You can also be exposed by breathing air that contains cyanobacterial cells or toxins. Wind surfing, jet-skiing, boating, or watering lawns are activities where this might occur.

Birds, chemical Aluminum sulphate and cyanobacteria

4/05 - Aluminum sulphate effects on the environment mentioned on Green Lake, Seattle, Washington podcast with Martin Muller - An episode of: On The Wing about birding

Recreation and cyanobacteria
• 4/6/09 - Triathlon on Whidbey Island
- Everett Herald by Gale Fiege,
Bacteria bloom puts Goss Lake on Whidbey Island out of use
LANGLEY -- If the blue-green algaelike bloom on Goss Lake doesn't clear up soon, participants in the 13th annual Whidbey Island Triathlon and kids on vacation may have to swim somewhere else, come summer. Island County Public Health department officials have posted caution signs at Goss Lake since December, when the cyanobacteria first showed up. A test to identify the bloom and its toxicity several months ago revealed low levels of toxins.
Lincoln City
• Parks and Recreation Department promotes an annual fall Triathlon that includes swimming in Devils Lake.
• Parks and Recreation Department promotes the Yaquina Yacht Club from Newport children's sailing class during the summer on Devils Lake.
• Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau and Lincoln City Chamber mention swimming and fishing in Devils Lake as "Things to Do"
• Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau has promoted a Devils Lake Fishing Derby in the fall
• Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau promotes two annual Kite Festivals near the D River where Devils Lake water flows down to the ocean.
• Rocky Stone Memorial Boat Races held annually in the fall on Devils Lake.

Agriculture and cyanobacteria
• 10/09
- Allen Milligan, Oregon State University - Cyanobacteria: An Emerging Threat to Agriculture in Oregon? Studying concerns about use of water with cyanobacteria bloom to irrigate crops - toxin may be as strong as using a herbicide - and its presence in the food chain considered.


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