Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Joint Conservation Committee Held Informational Meeting On Harmful Algal Blooms

By Sakura Ung, Committee Project Manager

The following article on algal blooms first appeared in the April newsletter of the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee.

On April 19, the Committee held an informational briefing at the State Capitol. The purpose of the informational briefing was to closely examine and highlight the environmental, economic and health impacts of harmful algal blooms that are located in water bodies throughout Pennsylvania.

Harmful algal blooms are microscopic organisms that are actually a form of bacteria called cyanobacteria, or bluegreen algae. The algal bloom season usually begins in July and concludes in early fall around September. 

HABs thrive in conditions that occur when there is a slow-moving, shallow body of water, warm temperatures, sunlight and excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen present in the water. 

According to the Pennsylvania HABs Task Force, the presence of algal blooms “indicates an ecosystem imbalance.” Because HABs release harmful toxins, any exposure can have devastating effects on the ecosystem, communities and the health of people, pets, livestock and wildlife.

During the briefing that took place, the Pennsylvania HABs Task Force presented to the Committee. The task force was created in the fall of 2019 and is comprised of the following state agencies: DEP, DCNR, Fish and Boat Commission, Game Commission, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and the Emergency Management Agency. 

The mission of this collaborative interagency task force is to address and combat HABs activity in Pennsylvania’s waters through methods such as monitoring and prevention, as well as to educate and raise awareness to citizens about these bacteria and how to utilize safe practices when coming into contact.

The following individuals from the task force spoke at the informational briefing: Shea Zwerver & Nick Decker from DCNR; Brian Chalfant & Josh Lookenbill from DEP; Rich Pugh & Michael McCaskill from DOH; and Heather Smiles & Mike Nerozzi from PFBC.

The members of the HABs Task Force discussed their efforts to address HABs activity in the Commonwealth. 

The initiatives and goals of the HABs Task Force can be separated into four areas: awareness; monitoring; response; and prevention. In the area of awareness, the task force focuses on educating the public about HABs activity through materials and information that can be found through various outlets such as social media, videos, websites and briefings.

The task force continuously monitors and identifies HABs activity throughout the Commonwealth by utilizing methods such as sample collections, visual observations and data management. 

In order to respond to HABs activity that is identified and located, the task force works to issue out advisories and warning notifications about HABs that are present in state parks and areas where the safety of the drinking water may be compromised. 

Prevention is also a key component of the task force. According to the group, prevention involves, “integrating several existing programs to address HABs.” 

During the briefing, the task force elaborated on the use of innovative technologies and updates that help to aid in the prevention of HABs, such as the use of a water quality buoy.

The presenters also comprehensively outlined some of the environmental, economic and health impacts of HABs in Pennsylvania’s waters. 

Some of the significant impacts of HABs as discussed by the presenters are highlighted below.

-- Environmental: aquatic species and fish experience lowered oxygen levels because of the presence of HABs, and the overall quality of aquatic ecosystems is jeopardized.

-- Health: the health of humans and animals is compromised because HABs contaminate water that is utilized for both drinking purposes and aquatic recreational activities such as swimming and kayaking. Shellfish for human consumption can also become contaminated by the bacteria. 

-- People and animals can become exposed to HABs through direct skin contact, breathing in the water or drinking it. The task force noted that exposure to HABs can lead to some of the following symptoms: rashes and skin irritation; itchy/bothersome eyes and respiratory issues. According to the task force, dogs in particular have been much more prone to problems with HABs exposure and poisoning.

-- Economic: some of the consequences of HABs on the economy that were provided by the task force include, but are not limited to: the reduction of value in real estate; loss in revenue generated by tourism and recreation; heightened costs to treat water; and decreases in agricultural productivity.

The task force noted that water bodies throughout Pennsylvania are affected by HABs such as the Shenango River Lake in Mercer County, the Frances Slocum Lake in Luzerne County, Stephen Foster Lake in Bradford County and Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County.

 In order to prevent the formation of HABs in Pennsylvania’s waters, the task force provided the following recommendations in one of their resource handouts: reducing the use of fertilizer in yards and gardens; ensuring that household septic systems are properly functioning; switching out products that contain nitrogen and phosphorous such as those found in certain soaps; and creating buffers around waters such as ponds and streams.

To date, the HABs Task Force has been successful in their endeavors to combat the issues of HABs in Pennsylvania.

The task force cited some of their accomplishments thus far, which included the areas of outreach and awareness of HABs, strategies involving monitoring and response; advancements in sample collection methods; and continued progression with the collaborative work done between the task force agencies.

A special thank you to the presenters from the HABs Task Force for joining the Committee for this very comprehensive and important briefing. The Committee wishes the task force continued success in all of their goals and initiatives.

For more information about the task force and HABs activity in Pennsylvania, please contact:

Related Newsletter Articles:

-- Algal Blooms Have High Price Tags

-- Understanding Algal Bloom Economic Impacts

Click Here to read the entire April newsletter.

Other Newsletter Articles

The April newsletter also featured these articles--

-- Dollar Value of Outdoor Recreation in Pennsylvania

-- Green Infrastructure Adoption

-- House Bill 867 - Keeping the Joint Conservation Committee

Click Here to read the entire April newsletter.

Rep. Parke Wentling (R-Mercer) serves as Chair of the Joint Conservation Committee.

For more information, visit the Joint Conservation Committee website, call 717-787-7570, Like them on Facebook or Follow them on TwitterClick Here to sign up for regular updates from the Committee.

Related Articles:

-- DEP Our Common Wealth Blog: What Are Harmful Algal Blooms And What Should You Do About Them?

-- DCNR Good Natured Blog: Summer Heat Can Contribute To Growth Of Harmful Algal Blooms

[Posted: May 5, 2021] PA Environment Digest

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