ILLINOIS (WEHT) – The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Department of Public Health are reminding people to be careful in Illinois waterways this summer.

The Illinois EPA and DPH offices say Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are microscopic organisms that naturally occur in lakes, streams, and ponds. Rapid and expansive growth of cyanobacteria is referred to as a “bloom.” While most blooms are harmless, some produce toxic chemicals that can cause sickness or other health effects in exposed people and pets.

The Illinois EPA and DPH say when a bloom producing toxins has been confirmed, local officials are advised to post appropriate signage to warn residents to avoid contact with affected waters. However, not all blooms are reported to state officials. Therefore, residents are advised to avoid contact with water that:

  • Looks like spilled, green or blue-green paint.
  • Has surface scums, mats, or films.
  • Has a blue or green crust at the shoreline.
  • Is discolored or has green-colored streaks.
  • Has greenish globs suspended in the water below the surface.

The press release says young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk to adverse health effects due to algal toxins. The most common routes of exposure are direct skin contact, ingestion of contaminated water, or inhalation of water droplets in the air, like while water skiing or tubing.

The Illinois EPA and DPH say symptoms of exposure to algal toxins include rashes, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, or wheezing. More severe symptoms may result from longer or greater amounts of exposure. If anyone is concerned that they have symptoms that are a result of exposure to algal toxins, they should contact their health care provider or call the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

The press release says residents are also advised to keep pets out of water that may contain cyanobacteria. Do not allow pets to drink from the water or lick their fur after swimming in water containing a cyanobacteria bloom. Residents and pets that have contact with cyanobacteria should rinse with clean water as soon as possible. If pets experience symptoms that may be the result of exposure, contact a veterinarian immediately.

The Illinois EPA and DPH say activities near, but not in or on, a lake or river such as camping, picnicking, biking, and hiking are not affected. With all activities, people should wash their hands with soap and water before eating if they have had contact with lake water or shore debris.

Residents or local officials who suspect a cyanobacteria bloom may report the bloom to the Illinois EPA. For additional information about harmful algal blooms, please visit the Illinois EPA Harmful Algal Bloom website. To report a human or animal illness from harmful algal bloom exposure, please visit the Illinois DPH Harmful Algal Bloom website.