The Clean Water Blog

Lake Erie Algal Bloom - August 2015. Photo Credit: NOAA Great Lakes CoastWatch

EPA misses the point on toxic algae outbreaks

Today EPA announced “See a bloom, give it room”, a contest for high school students to make a video that “promotes awareness of harmful algal blooms” and “how to spot and steer clear of them.” It doesn’t mention what EPA should be doing to stop them.

The release goes on to note that “Certain environmental conditions in water bodies can intensify algae growth, causing algal blooms.” It’s silent on the fact that those “conditions” are our changing climate and water pollution. Climate and water are two things that EPA is moving in the wrong direction on - it's rolling back protections, instead of taking acting on climate and protecting our water.

Look, it’s good that EPA wants to engage students and good that they want to focus on toxic algae. But how does the agency write an entire release about toxic algal outbreaks and not mention agricultural pollution, the main driver of these outbreaks, or climate change, which is super-charging blooms on our rivers, lakes, and streams?

OK, I know the answer. But still, seriously? 

Toxic algae is not just a health risk for people or something that can kill our pets. It’s a serious problem for our water, communities, and the economy. It’s only going to get worse as climate change warms our water and leads to more extreme weather. This summer, communities from New Jersey to Mississippi to Oregon were forced to close beaches for long stretches of time due to outbreaks. Businesses lost money and people were laid off. It was a lost summer for many of these cities and towns. In 2014, residents and businesses in Toledo, OH couldn’t drink or bathe in the water for three days after toxic algae from an outbreak on Lake Erie got into the drinking water.

It’s ridiculous for EPA to raise awareness about how to “prevent exposure” to toxic algae without talking about its own role stopping outbreaks before they happen by tackling runoff from farm fields and reducing other agricultural pollution. It’s outrageous to pass this off on students, but not ask them to research and raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on outbreaks of toxic algae, especially on the eve of the youth-led climate strikes.

EPA needs to do better. Outbreaks of toxic algae are driven by pollution and they’ll get worse as the climate crisis deepens and as the agency continues to rollback safeguards for our water. Instead of hosting a video contest, EPA needs to drop its dirty water agenda and start taking action to address the climate crisis.

Want to learn more about outbreaks of toxic algae and drinking water? Check out this report.

What causes harmful algal blooms - Clean Water Action