The State of Illinois has issued a warning about lake and river recreational activities this summer because water conditions are "ideal" for the growth of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.
Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms that naturally occur in lakes, streams and ponds. When cyanobacteria has a rapid and expansive growth, it's called a "bloom," according to a press release from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Public Health.
"While most blooms are harmless, some can produce toxic chemicals that cause sickness or other health effects in people and pets, depending on the amount and type of exposure," the state's press release said.
Most at risk
Those who may be at most risk of adverse health effects if they come in contact with algal toxins are sensitive individuals, including young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
While swimming by people or pets isn't allowed in the Forest Preserve District of Will County's preserves, visitors who fish and boat on the District's lakes should take precautions. The most common routes of exposure to the cyanobacteria are direct skin contact, accidental ingestion of contaminated water or accidental inhalation of water droplets in the air, according to state officials.
"Symptoms of exposure to algal toxins include rashes, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, or wheezing," the state's press release stated. "More severe symptoms may result from longer or greater amounts of exposure. If you are concerned you have symptoms that are a result of exposure to algal toxins, contact your health care provider or call the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222."
While some blooms are tested by the IEPA, not all are. So Illinois residents are being encouraged to avoid contact with suspicious looking water that:
- looks like spilled, green or blue-green paint;
- has surface scums, mats or films;
- has a blue or green crust at the shoreline;
- is discolored or has green-colored streaks; or
- has greenish globs suspended in the water below the surface.
The state also warns residents to keep pets out of the water.
"Do not allow pets to drink from the water and do not allow them to lick their fur after swimming in water containing a cyanobacteria bloom. If you or your pet has contact with water you suspect may have a cyanobacteria bloom, rinse off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible. If your pet experiences symptoms that may be the result of exposure, contact your veterinarian immediately."
Those who have any contact with the water or shore debris should wash their hands with soap and water before eating, officials advised.
For additional information about harmful algal blooms, please visit the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Harmful Algal Bloom website.
The U.S. EPA also has information on its Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms website.
Stay up-to-date on the happenings in Will County's forest preserves by subscribing to The Citizen, our weekly digital newsletter that provides subscribers with updates on Forest Preserve news, upcoming events, and other fun and useful information for the whole family. If you're only interested in programs, subscribe to The Weekly Five, which outlines the five must-do programs each week. Signing up for either newsletter is easy and free of charge.