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Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are a group of photosynthetic bacteria that live in freshwater and marine systems around the world. In Iowa, Cyanobacteria are commonly found in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams where they are often the dominant group of algae. Iowa’s nutrient rich waters provide ideal conditions for Cyanobacteria to thrive. During the summer, Cyanobacteria can create large algal blooms that produce scums on the water surface and give water the appearance of pea soup. Blooms can be triggered following storms when high nutrient runoff enters surface waters. Long periods of hot temperatures following storms can stimulate severe algal blooms.

Cyanobacteria can pose health hazards because certain species produce toxins. During blooms, toxin concentrations can be high enough to produce severe reactions, and even fatalities, in pets, livestock, and people if contaminated water is consumed. Exposure to toxins can produce a variety of symptoms, including skin irritation, vomiting and diarrhea, shortness of breath, convulsions, and death. Please seek appropriate medical attention immediately if you, your loved ones, or animals are experiencing severe reactions after contact with contaminated waters (Please visit our First Aid page). Because toxin levels are difficult to predict, it is best to keep pets, livestock, and people out of the water during algal blooms.

This webpage contains resources to keep Iowans and their animals safe during Cyanobacteria blooms. The webpage contains information on Cyanobacteria commonly found in Iowa, symptoms of exposure to toxins, what to do if you or your animals are showing symptoms of toxin exposure, and an interactive map to report Cyanobacteria blooms or view reported blooms by county. There is also information on how you can test ponds, stock tanks, and streams on your property for Cyanobacteria and the toxin microcystin. Please contact us if you have any questions about Cyanobacteria or suggestions for this webpage.

Please refer to ISU study on Cyanobacteria for more information on our laboratory's research on Cyanobacteria.