2 events postponed because of blue-green algae

Posted at 10:39 AM, Sep 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-18 10:39:15-04

CINCINNATI -- Thanks a lot, nature: Two events are canceled on the Ohio River because of potentially toxic algae blooms.

The Great Ohio River Swim, which was supposed to be Sunday, is now scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 10. Registration, location and day's schedule stay the same: Registration opens at 6:45 a.m., and the swim starts at 8:15 a.m.

The event is the largest cross-river open-water swimming event on the Ohio River. In 2014, 131 teens and adults completed the 900-yard swim from the Serpentine Wall to Kentucky and back to Cincinnati's Public Landing.

Boone County's Riversweep, a cleanup of trash along the river sponsored by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, also was scheduled for this weekend; it's being bumped to Saturday, Sept. 26.

(It's actually the second time Riversweep has been rescheduled: It was postponed in June because of high water.)

Blue-green algae blooms have been a problem on the Ohio for two weeks; certain types can release toxins that are harmful, causing a rash, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain -- with more severe symptoms possible depending on exposure level.

RELATED: Recreational advisory issued for Ohio River

Swallowing contaminated water, inhaling water droplets and skin contact are all ways people can be exposed to blue-green algae toxins.

Some blue-green algae blooms look like this. Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Health Dept.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had this to say on the algae on its website:

Although scientists do not yet understand fully how HABs affect human health, authorities in the United States and abroad are monitoring HABs and developing guidelines for HAB-related public health action. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added certain algae associated with HABs to its Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List. This list identifies organisms and toxins that EPA believes are priorities for investigation.

Many states regularly experience harmful algal blooms (HABs), and state public health departments are often are asked to provide guidance about HAB-associated human and animal illnesses. HSB subject matter experts help states to develop their public health responses to HAB events, including providing outreach and education materials and assessing exposure and the potential for health effects.

The description of what they look like speaks for itself: thick mats or scum on the water surface. It might also look like spilled paint that's bluish-green, bright green or even red or maroon.

"It's really thick," said Debbie Bricking, owner of Riverside Marina in Dayton, Kentucky. "It's just nasty. It's like pure moss."

She's noticed the river's algae problem get worse in the past few days.

"In the morning when I come out to come to work, you can't even see the river at all in front of the boats and all throughout here," she said. "It's horrible. In 42 years that we have owned the marina, we have never seen anything like it."

Blue-green algae usually blooms in lakes, ponds and slow-moving rivers under the right conditions: lots of sunlight, warm temperatures and excessive phosphorus and nitrogen in the water. In other words, exactly what we've had lately.

The region's drinking water is still considered safe.

Graphic by Kentucky Dept. of Water