Monday, January 30, 2006

Microcystins, BGA Blooms and CAFOs

BGA blooms are most likely to form when three conditions converge:
1. the wind is quiet or mild
2. the water is warm but not hot (60 to 86 degrees F, 18 – 25 ÂșC))
3. the water harbors an abundance of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus (i.e., from agricultural or urban runoff, or failing sewage disposal systems).

Both condition #1 and condition #2 occur frequently on wetlands located in the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife reserve, adjoining the new Belstra-Harper swine CAFO currently under construction.

(The walls are up ...even though they poured their cement for manure pits and building foundations on ICE -- a strongly prohibited construction practice!!)

Needless to say, the plan for tons -- and TONS AND TONS -- of manure to be knifed into the ground at this and surrounding locations next to the Game Reserve bring with it an abundance of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus -- and I predict -- will prove to be too much for soils to handle/absorb, and will create condition #3 for toxic BGA blooms both on the reserve and in local area ditches and streams.

BGA blooms can be blue-green, olive green, grey-green, yellow–brown or purple to red. Blooms may persist for up to seven days but the resulting toxins may last for as long as three weeks. When algae cells die or are damaged, toxins may be released at levels harmful to pets and livestock if they drink the water or eat the algae.

Some blue-green algae toxins will remain toxic in a dry form.

Several genera of cyanobacteria (also referred to as blue-green algae) have been found to be toxic, and have been linked to the death of large numbers of birds and mammals.

Microcystins in drinking water are known to be harmful even at low concentrations and the cyanobacterial peptide toxins accumulate in certain aquatic food webs. In addition to microcystins and nodularins, neurotoxins such as anatoxin-a and cytotoxins such as cylindrospermopsin have been isolated from cyanobacteria.

Humans - Short term health effects:

Microcystins are hepatotoxic, causing necrosis and pooling of blood in the liver with the organ gaining up to 100% of its normal weight.

Some Symptoms Include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Piloerection
  • Weakness
  • Pallor
Onset of symptoms is extremely rapid, with death occurring in a few hours if a lethal dose is taken.

Damage to the liver is rapid and irreversible. Dialysis or liver transplants may be the only effective treatments. Antidote - NONE.

Humans - Long term health effects:

Of a more long term concern is that microcystins and nodularins are liver tumour promoters in test animals. Epidemiology suggests that there may be a positive correlation between levels of microcystin in fresh water supplies in certain areas of China and the number of human liver cancer cases.

Domestic Animals and Wildlife Health:

BGA can produce nervous system poisons (neurotoxins), liver poisons (hepatotoxins), or compounds that cause allergic responses (lipopolysaccharide endotoxins). BGA neurotoxins can kill animals within minutes by paralyzing the respiratory muscles, while the hepatotoxins can cause death within hours by causing blood to pool in the liver.

There are numerous reports of thirsty domestic animals and wildlife consuming fresh water contaminated with toxic BGA and dying within hours from neurotoxicity or hepatotoxicity, or developing sublethal chronic liver disease.

Canine deaths from BGA exposure have been reported in the USA, for examples;

-- From July through October 2001, 5 dogs died after swimming in Big Lagoon, CA

-- In the summer of 2002, 3 dog deaths were reported after contact with the South Fork of the Eel River, CA

-- Near Standish-Hickey State Park in Mendocino County,CA, 2 dogs died within a few minutes of swimming in the river, and another dog died after swimming near Tooby Park in Garberville in Humboldt County, CA. The third dog died within 15 minutes of exposure to the water.

-- In 2004, a dog that died in July shortly after swimming in the South Fork Eel River in Mendocino County near Indian Creek (Piercy), California, which may have ingested BGA toxins; however, the dog was buried before this could be confirmed.

Reported neurological symptoms include:
  • stumbling and falling,
  • followed by an inability to rise,
  • elevated heart rate,
  • foaming at the mouth,
  • howling,
  • tremors,
  • loss of bowel control,
  • eyes rolling back into the head,
  • and seizures.
The amount of BGA-tainted water needed to kill an animal depends on many factors but typically the volume ranges from a few ounces to several gallons. Thirsty animals are often undeterred by the foul smell and taste of contaminated water. Additionally, dogs can consume large quantities of BGA by licking their fur after swimming in a bloom.

BGA and their toxins move with winds and currents, and a species of BGA could turn up in one water sample, but not another, depending on the time and location of sampling.

Note To Jasper County Residents: Owners of pets in this area need to be aware of what to do. Evidence of an algae bloom and/or a case history of sudden illness or death after water contact should raise suspicion of BGA poisoning. This may be supported if wild species (e.g., mice, muskrats, birds, snakes or fish) have also died in the vicinity. If BGA is suspected, water samples should be taken as soon as possible, in the same location where an animal fell ill after swimming.

PS: If you are a visitor to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area reserve and you frequently bring your canine companion/s with you, be sure to monitor them closely next year (after the Belstra-Harper CAFO is in full operation) and watch for signs of BGA toxicity. It would probably be advisable to NOT let them swim in the waters near Area 8 on warm summer and/or fall days.

PSS: If you are a politician and/or a CAFO supporter and/or the Property Manager for J-P F&W and you still believe the location of this particular CAFO presents no danger to area residents, pets and wildlife -- including endangered species who visit and/or reside in this region -- take a closer look at the BIG picture, and the potential lawsuits that could follow. Yes, we've had our water tested have most local area residents living nearby this facility.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and should not be considered a substitute for licensed professional care.

DIVISION OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH, California - BGA Fact Sheet (pdf document)
DHS Environmental Toxicology Program, Oregon - Blue-green Algae Advisories
Sigma Alorich - Cyanobacterial Toxins
Microcystins as Initiators of Avian Botulism? (pdf)
Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents - Microcystins/essential data
Australian Research Network for Algal Toxins
Akademi University - Cyanobacterial Toxins
G-M Water Australia - Blue-Green Algae

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