Harmful algal blooms observed on Ohio River and tributaries

Three states affected by HABs

The Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW) with the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection are responding to several reports of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on the Ohio River and some of its tributaries. The HABs have been observed between Pike Island Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near Wheeling, W.Va.  downriver to Cincinnati, OhioHABs Pic.

ORSANCO first received notification of a green sheen on the Ohio River near Wheeling, W. Va.  at the Pike Island Locks and Dam on Wednesday, Aug. 19. A sample of river water was analyzed which confirmed the presence of blue-green algae.

As a precaution, KDOW is sampling drinking water intakes at facilities downstream of and in the areas of reported blooms. KDOW is continuing to work with public water systems along the Ohio River to be vigilant in monitoring the water supply.

On Monday, Aug. 31, the KDOW received a report that a harmful algal bloom was observed on the Ohio River near the City of Greenup.  This observed bloom is in the Ohio River at Mile 338 upstream to the Ohio River Mile 334 near the City of Greenup.  An additional HAB has been observed on the Little Sandy in the area of the Greenup Water Plant intake. Raw and finished water samples are being collected at the Greenup Water Plant.   As a precaution, the drinking water plant is using activated carbon to provide additional treatment of its raw water until sample results, expected later this week, indicate if this additional treatment is necessary.

Monitoring of the Ohio River is ongoing between agencies in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia in coordination with ORSANCO. Updated information will be provided on Kentucky’s Naturally Connected blog and ORSANCO’s website: www.orsanco.org.

Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae occur naturally in the environment and are a vital part of the ecosystem.  A HAB occurs when there is excessive growth of toxin-producing cyanobacteria. Abundant nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), sunny conditions, warm temperatures and low-flow or low-water conditions can contribute to high concentrations of cyanobacteria. These blooms can be irritating to skin and toxins may affect the liver and nervous system if consumed.

HABs may appear as oily slicks of opaque, bright-green paint, but closer inspection often reveals a grainy, sawdust-like appearance. The color of the algae may also appear red or brown. If you see algae that resemble underwater moss or stringy mats, it is likely green algae, which do not produce toxins.

Citizens are advised to be alert to the possible occurrence of HABs in waters where they recreate. Citizens shoud avoid water that:

  • Looks like spilled paint
  • Has surface scums, mats or films
  • Is discolored or has colored streaks
  • Has green globs floating below the surface.

The following guidelines are recommended to avoid exposure to HABs:

  • Direct contact with affected water, including swimming, wading, fishing, paddling, diving and water skiing may result in symptoms. Avoid swallowing river or lake water.
  • People who are prone to respiratory allergies or asthma should avoid areas with HABs. Children may be particularly sensitive.
  • If contact has been made with water containing blue-green algae, wash off with fresh water. In some cases, skin irritation will appear after prolonged exposure. If symptoms persist, consult your local health care provider.
  • Fish fillets (not organs) may be consumed after the fillets have been rinsed in clean, non-lake water.
  • Prevent pets and livestock from coming into contact or ingesting water containing harmful algal blooms.

If you are concerned that you have symptoms that are a result of exposure to HABs please see your doctor and call your local health department.