A scientist at Oregon State University has proposed that freshwater algae blooms around the world may be growing more toxic. His analysis was published today in the journal Science.
Tim Otten studies algae blooms. He says fertilizer pollution and a warming climate are fueling the growth of huge mats of green scum in lakes and reservoirs.
Otten: “For instance in Lake Erie, it’s been plagued with toxic blooms that are so large you can see them from outer space.”
The algae can pose a risk to drinking water because some species release a powerful liver toxin called microcystin. Otten’s analysis suggests that the toxin helps the algae protect itself from cell damage, and that gives highly toxic species a competitive advantage over less harmful strains. Washington state regularly monitors freshwater and marine algae for toxicity. But Oregon has dramatically scaled back its monitoring program due to federal funding cuts.
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