State agencies launch website, hotline to report harmful algal b - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

State agencies launch website, hotline to report harmful algal blooms

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HELENA -

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are enlisting the public's help with identifying suspected Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

Officials said in a press release to ABC FOX Montana that HAB's are a seasonal phenomenon on Montana's lakes, reservoirs and ponds that can make people sick and even kill pets and livestock.

On Friday, the two agencies launched a HAB reporting website as well as a 24-hour hotline at 1-888-849-2938.

"Harmful Algal Blooms can present a health risk to people and animals," said Laura Williamson, state epidemiologist at DPHHS. 

Direct skin contact or inhalation of the toxic blue-green algae may cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, or throat and people may experience respiratory symptoms after exposure. 

Nationally, there have been no human deaths caused by HAB exposure. However, animal deaths, such as livestock, pets and wildlife, have been cause by HABs.

"In addition to educating folks about the danger, we're asking the public to be our eyes out in the field so we can respond quickly and hopefully prevent people, pets or livestock from getting sick," Williamson said.

The website allows users the time and date that an algal bloom is observed, upload photos of the bloom and pinpoint the GPS location. 

The site also includes the phone number for Poison Control, which should be called immediately if a HAB-related illness is suspected in a person or animal.

Blooms of potentially toxic blue-green algae appear as "pea soup," "grass clippings," or "green latex paint."  

The algae usually are suspended in the water column or aggregated into floating mats. They do not grow from the bottom as do mosses or "water weeds." 

Algae bloom in abundance this time of year on Montana's ponds, lakes and reservoirs. While not all varieties are harmful, some can produce dangerous cyanotoxins.

"Nationally this issue has gotten so much attention," said Eric Urban, DEQ Water Quality Planning Bureau Chief. In Montana, Hebgen Lake Reservoir had a confirmed HAB last summer that lasted into October with "alarming levels" of cyanotoxins, Urban said.

Photo: Algal Bloom in Salmon Lake, 2013
Courtesy: Clearwater Resource Council  

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