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You may want to think twice before diving into Lake Erie on the Fourth of July.

On June 27, one week before July 4, NOAA and its research partners forecast a moderate to above-average harmful algal bloom (HAB) in western Lake Erie this summer, raising concerns that swimmers and pets could unknowingly come into contact with toxic blue-green algae while vacationing in the region’s waters.

“We want people to be safe as they cool off in the region’s lakes, ponds and reservoirs this Fourth of July holiday,” said Jan Spin, president of BlueGreen Water Technologies for the Americas, in a press release. “Harmful algal blooms can produce powerful toxins that can make people sick and even kill pets that come into contact with infected water. It’s important to know how to identify toxic algal blooms and stay away from water when they are present.”

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High temperatures increase the risk of outbreaks of toxic cyanobacteria, which make up harmful blue-green algae. In summer, when water contains too many nutrients and pollutants, the algae are more likely to bloom and release dangerous toxins that can contaminate drinking water and seafood and make people and pets sick.

Air potential

“If you see a bluish-green film on the water surface or floating mats of biomass or foam, leave the area,” said Jessica Frost, chief scientific officer of BlueGreen US, in a press release. “Remember that the risks posed by toxic algae are not limited to the water; toxins can also be present along the shoreline and become airborne, causing respiratory distress in some people and animals.”

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Symptoms of exposure to cyanobacterial toxins can appear within a few days and include fever, headache, fatigue, difficulty breathing, skin, eye or respiratory irritation, dizziness, muscle weakness, vomiting and diarrhea, dark urine, and yellowing of the eyes.

How to recognize it

To identify harmful algal blooms, BlueGreen recommends looking for water that appears bright green, blue-green or even red, has slimy plants, foam, scum or mats floating on the surface, and has a musty or fishy odor such as rotten eggs, septic tank or gasoline.

Before entering the water, check for warning signs and inspect the shore for dead (but still dangerous) or living algal blooms. If you come into contact with contaminated water, rinse immediately with clean water. Boiling water will not remove the toxins from the water, so do not try to drink or even flush in contaminated water.

If pets come into contact with infected water, put on gloves and wash them immediately. Watch for symptoms and call your local veterinarian, ASPCA Animal Poison at 1-888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661.

NOAA will continue to monitor harmful algal blooms throughout the summer.