New Study Links Toxin in Blue-Green Algae to Neurological Disease

Chris Kilian | @ChrisKilianVT

Blue-Green BloomThe serious health consequences of cyanobacteria – more commonly known as blue-green algae – have been recognized by health professionals for years. A study released Wednesday by the Royal Society of London is now linking exposure to blue-green algae outbreaks with deadly neurological diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. This breakthrough animal study found that vervet monkeys fed BMAA – a toxin produced by cyanobacteria – develop brain defects identical to those seen in ALS and Parkinson’s patients. While CLF has been fighting to control cyanobacterial blooms for decades, this study amplifies the urgency of our work.

New England communities experience a high number of blue-green algae blooms every year. Throughout the region, CLF is challenging the current policies that allow such toxic blue-green algae outbreaks to continue.

In Vermont, CLF has focused on changing the math by which the health of Lake Champlain is calculated, pushing for stricter standards that bring all polluters into compliance with the law. In addition, CLF successfully lobbied for tougher stormwater regulations for large parking lots and flat rooftops (when rain and snowmelt drain off of these mirror-like surfaces, they carry chemicals, oil, gas, and other pollutants with them into our waters). CLF has also negotiated an agreement with Vermont’s agency of agriculture to require farmers in the dirtiest watersheds to implement more – and better – conservation practices to prevent their polluted runoff from draining into our waterways.

To protect the Charles River watershed and several waterways in Rhode Island, CLF is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to enforce stormwater pollution regulations. And in Maine and New Hampshire, CLF is pushing for more advanced pollution controls at wastewater treatment plants, where discharges of millions of gallons of nutrient-laden wastewater threaten fragile water resources and contribute to blue-green algae blooms.

Waterbody by waterbody, CLF is fighting for stricter pollution controls because we understand that water health is as much about protecting the public’s health as it is about protecting the environment. Previous research has shown that toxins produced by cyanobacteria can cause skin irritations, vomiting, and liver damage. Of further consequence to communities living near polluted waterways is the developing research around the exposure to BMAA through inhalation. While more work must be done to determine if BMAA affects humans the same way it did the animals in this new study, the public health implications are significant to our work here in New England.

CLF has always diligently tracked the intersections between public health and polluted waters, and we will continue to track this newest health implication of blue-green algae blooms. The fight to protect our waterways is more important than ever as new studies such as this reveal the potentially devastating consequences of abandoning our clean water commitments.

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