Toxic algae blooms, a common sight during the summer season, are more harmful than what was previously thought.

Every summer season, toxic algae blooms are bountiful in local waterways, ponds, and lakes. While health experts know these blooms are dangerous to the health of both animals and humans, a new study says they are more hazardous than what was originally believed. For starters, it can cause the accumulation of high liver toxin concentrations, which are harmful to humans and animals alike if ingested.

A single huge blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River in Florida spread into the Gulf of Mexico in 2018 and blended with a red tide algae bloom, an analysis published in the online journal Neurotoxicity Research recently showed. The result was a toxic stew near the Fort Myers coast.

The blend contained high concentrations of liver toxin that scientists call microcystin-LR, which is very hazardous to humans and animals if accidentally swallowed or ingested, lead study author James Metcalf said. He is also a senior scientist at Jackson Hole, Wyoming's Brain Chemistry Labs.

He said that the liver toxins they found were concentrated enough that anyone would probably get sick a short time after ingesting the water. "It's all dose-dependent, so a larger person would need to drink more than a smaller person or a child," Metcalf added.

According to US News and World Report, there were also traces of other algae toxins, which include a substance Metcalf and his team called BMAA. He revealed this substance may be linked to neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) and Alzheimer's. Past studies have linked frequent dietary exposure to BMAA with the early development of such diseases in laboratory animals.

Metcalf also stated that people might not immediately get sick but they would if they drink the contaminated water for a couple of years. "We're concerned that is a risk for developing Alzheimer's or ALS. Our research has indicated that it could be a risk factor for neurological disease," he added.

Toxic algae blooms
Toxic algae blooms are harmful. Hugo_ob/Pixabay

The study is important as it shows a single algae bloom produces various toxins that are harmful in many ways, according to Anne Weir Schechinger, an Environmental Working Group senior analyst based in Minneapolis. "When we know that these different toxins can be produced by the same bloom, then we can start to do better at protecting people because they have a lot of public health impacts," she said.