Home » Toxic algae reported in Ohio River and tributaries

Toxic algae reported in Ohio River and tributaries

Frankfort, Ky. – Environmental agencies from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are responding to several reports of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on the Ohio River and some of its tributaries.

The HABs have been observed between Pike Island Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near Wheeling, W.Va.  downriver to at least Louisville.

As a precaution, the Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW) is sampling drinking water intakes at facilities downstream of and in the reported areas. KDOW is continuing to work with public water systems along the Ohio River to be vigilant in monitoring the water supply.

A HAB occurs when there is excessive growth of toxin-producing cyanobacteria. Abundant nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), sunny conditions, warm temperatures and low-flow or low-water conditions can contribute to high concentrations of cyanobacteria. These blooms can be irritating to skin and toxins may affect the liver and nervous system if consumed.

HABs may appear as oily slicks of opaque, bright-green paint, but closer inspection often reveals a grainy, sawdust-like appearance. The color of the algae may also appear red or brown. If you see algae that resemble underwater moss or stringy mats, it is likely green algae, which do not produce toxins.

Updated information will be provided on Kentucky’s Naturally Connected blog.

Citizens are advised to be alert to the possible occurrence of HABs in waters where they recreate. Citizens shoud avoid water that:

  • Looks like spilled paint
  • Has surface scums, mats or films
  • Is discolored or has colored streaks
  • Has green globs floating below the surface.

The following guidelines are recommended to avoid exposure to HABs:

  • Direct contact with affected water, including swimming, wading, fishing, paddling, diving and water skiing may result in symptoms. Avoid swallowing river or lake water.
  • People who are prone to respiratory allergies or asthma should avoid areas with HABs. Children may be particularly sensitive.
  • If contact has been made with water containing blue-green algae, wash off with fresh water. In some cases, skin irritation will appear after prolonged exposure. If symptoms persist, consult your local health care provider.
  • Fish fillets (not organs) may be consumed after the fillets have been rinsed in clean, non-lake water.
  • Prevent pets and livestock from coming into contact or ingesting water containing harmful algal blooms.