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Everything you need to know about toxic algae blooms

Stephanie De Marco, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Green pond scum floating on a lake is not just unsightly. As animal lovers have learned the hard way, it can be deadly.

In recent days, three pet dogs in North Carolina and another in Georgia died after swimming in water contaminated with toxic organisms.

Warm temperatures and an influx of nutrients from agricultural runoff or other sources can prompt toxic algae and bacteria to grow out of control. The result is a phenomenon called a toxic algae bloom.

As the planet warms, these blooms are becoming more frequent -- leading to a greater chance for human and animal exposure.

Here's what you need to know to protect yourself and your pets from toxic algae blooms.



Algae are plant-like organisms that grow in water or other damp environments. They can be as small as a single cell or as large as a kelp forest. For the most part, they get their energy through photosynthesis. However, they lack roots, leaves and other characteristic components of plants.

The microorganisms known as blue-green algae aren't actually algae at all. They are cyanobacteria, bacterial cells that get their energy from photosynthesis.

Toxic blooms in freshwater lakes and streams are usually caused by cyanobacteria, while blooms that occur in the ocean are typically the result of algae.



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