Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the water recreation season, and before you don a bathing suit, environmental experts in Iowa say being aware of water quality can help avoid serious illnesses.
The Iowa Environmental Council hosted a forum this week to highlight key information before people flock to lakes and beaches.
Alicia Vasto, Associate Director of the Water Program for the Council, said Outbreaks of E. coli on state park beaches have been fairly consistent, and there has been a gradual increase in swimming advisories prompted by harmful algae blooms.
They contain a toxin that Vasto describes as “nasty” after coming into contact with it.
“Even, you know, your skin contact can cause rashes and hives,” Vasto pointed out. “If you inhale it – like water droplets, if you’re boating or water skiing or something like that – it can cause you breathing problems. If you swallow it, it can cause pain in your stomach. stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.”
Algae blooms, which form in warm, still water, can look like spilled green paint or pea soup and give off a foul odor. The council advised swimmers to stay out of the water if warning signs are displayed. Swimmers are also encouraged to shower after contact with surface water, even if there is no warning. More than 20 such notices were posted on Iowa State Park beaches last year.
Toxic algal blooms have also been linked to fatal liver disease.
Peter Thorne, a professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, said there are similar health issues for pets.
“Take dogs, for example. They’ll go into water, even if it’s dirty, and play in it, and they’ll ingest it,” Thorne observed. “And ingestion is the real problem.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2019, more than 200 animal deaths have been reported across the country. The panel noted that hot, dry summers, like the one in Iowa last year, can fuel harmful algae growth. Agricultural runoff is considered a key source of surface water toxins.
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