You may have seen some blue-green goop in the waters around Montana recently.
Those algal blooms are not new, but now state agencies are asking for the public’s help locating them in case they turn toxic.
Melissa Schaar, a Water Quality Standards Specialist at Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality, said algae formations made of cyanobacteria are not uncommon in bodies of water around the country.
"There are very few instances where that cyanobacteria is actually toxic," Schaar said.
It’s only when hot temperatures combine with stagnant waters that concerns arise. The cyanobacteria can turn toxic and become a danger to humans and animals.
Schaar said ingestion of Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) can result in fatigue, intestinal distress, and rashes if the toxic blooms touch skin.
According to DEQ, a serious case of HABs in 2014 left half a million residents of Toledo without access to the public water supply for three days.
That’s one of the reasons DEQ and the Department of Public Health and Human Services have teamed up to create a website where people can report when they come into contact with an algae bloom.
According to the site: “A bloom of potentially toxic blue-green algal appears as ‘pea soup,’ ‘grass clippings,’ or ‘green latex paint.’”
The agencies plan to use the data for better identification, early warning and prevention.
Depending on the severity of the outbreak, the agencies may decide to post warning signs or even close affected areas.
In the future, DEQ hopes to have a publicly available map that shows all the locations where algal blooms have been discovered.
If you think you’ve come into contact with HABs, Schaar has some advice.
“Go home and just wash off with fresh water or clean water,” Schaar said. “Wash your dog. If he’s itching his skin, wash your dog.”
DEQ stresses that it is rare for algal blooms to turn toxic. So far in 2017, only one person has reported feeling ill from contact with HABs.