Toxicity Not the Only Problem with Lake Erie Algae

Lake Erie boaters and beach-goers worry about the unsightly and toxic algae blooms that have plagued the western side of the water in recent years. And it's growing as a problem around the world. Now researchers say the problem may be worse than they thought: They've found an unknown chemical in the algae that could impact reproductive systems of fish. The Allegheny Front's Julie Grant reports.

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Lake Erie boaters and beach-goers worry about the unsightly and toxic algae blooms that have plagued the western side of the water in recent years. And it's growing as a problem around the world. Now researchers say the problem may be worse than they thought: They've found an unknown chemical in the algae that could impact reproductive systems of fish. The Allegheny Front's Julie Grant reports.
Grant: The toxic algae called microcystis shows up as soupy flourescent green blooms in the water. Up until now, the concern has been about the toxicity of the algae - because people who swim in it can get rashes and stomach illness. There are reports of pets dying after swimming in microcystis blooms. But new research finds more reasons for concern. Emily Rogers was a PhD student at the University of Tennessee when she studied microcystis. She found that it contains an unknown estrogen-like chemical that feminizes male fish...

Rogers: This could basically lead to reproductive problems in fish. It could interfere with their ability to reproduce, it could maybe lead to population declines, possibly. All of this is theoretical, but those are the things we worry about when we see an estrogenic response in fish.

Grant: Rogers and her colleagues published their results in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. She says there needs to be more research, to establish under what conditions the algae produces these substances and how dangerous they are. For The Allegheny Front, I'm Julie Grant.