Algae Alert: Murky Water Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

Jul 30, 2013

Late summer in the Northwoods means it’s time to watch out for blue green algae blooms in lakes and ponds.  

Blue-green algae can form a paint-like scum on the surface of the water
Credit Dwight Burdette

The algae often produces toxins that can cause rashes and breathing problems in humans.  Pam Pedersen is a nurse with Vilas County Public Health Department.  She says it can be especially harmful for pets that may drink or swim in murky water.          

“For dogs, because usually they obtain it by ingesting water contaminated with it, they’ll get more neurological symptoms like seizures, they’ll get really lethargic, kind of out of it so to speak.  Difficulty breathing, and vomiting.  And it can be fatal to pets.”

Pedersen says the harmful algae is not always blue or green as its name suggests, but can be identified by its scummy or paint-like appearance. 

“If you are in the water and you can’t see your feet, you’ve got a problem.  It could be brown, it could be a little blue green, it could even have a red tinge.  But if you have that murky looking water that looks like a mat – then chances are you’ve got yourself some blue green algae.”

Health officials warn the best thing to do is stay out of the water and wait for the bloom to pass.  For more details or if you think you’ve gotten sick from blue green algae, visit the Wisconsin department of health service’s website.