Hot and dry weather, which is common in southwest North Dakota during the summer, provides the environment in which dangerous blue-green algae grows.
“It is common enough that in hot and dry weather, particularly surface water and places where they aren’t getting a recharge of fresh water, it becomes an issue. It is certainly something that we have on the back of our minds," said Chip Poland, chair of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies at Dickinson State University.
This occurs when not enough fresh water is being produced, such as by rain.
This algae can pose health risks to people and animals.
“The problem with the blue-green algae is that it produces a cyanide type byproduct that would affect the body like cyanide. I believe that it affects the ability of the blood to carry oxygen,” Poland said.
People and animals that swallow water containing blue-green algae can become sick with diarrhea and vomiting, or numb lips and tingling in their fingers or toes. Rashes, dizziness, hives and skin blisters can also be a side effect.
Children and smaller animals are more susceptible to illnesses from blue-green algae due to their size.
Although humans can be affected, cattle are more so affected when this problem arises.
“Whether its cyanotoxins caused by blue-green algae or toxic water due to increased salts and sulfates, cattle can develop adverse clinical signs, including death,” says Dr. Michelle Mostrom with North Dakota State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in a press release.
The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Agriculture recommends that people avoid water that may look like it is infected and try to keep their cattle and livestock away from it as well so they do not drink the water.
Poland is not aware of any casualties due to this except for small calves.
Although the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (NDDEQ) does test water for toxins and issues advisories to the public when they are detected, because it can take time to receive test results, people are urged to be cautious and avoid water that looks discolored or scummy or has a foul odor.
Foam can appear on the surface of the water, and in some instances, the water can even turn colors making it appear green.