Toxins and Harmful Algal Blooms Science Team

Science Center Objects

Algal blooms frequently occur in our Nation's water resources and can cause economic, ecologic and human health concerns. Natural toxins produced by cyanobacteria and other microorganisms are commonly associated with algal blooms. Yet, the actual health threats posed to the public, pets, livestock, and wildlife by these toxins in water resources used for recreation and drinking water remain poorly understood. Consequently, in order to be protective from potential health risks, rapid decisions are often made by land managers, public utilities and others to limit access to water resources for recreation or drinking water. These decisions can result in major economic investments as well as loss of access to water resources and are often based largely on a perception of potential risk.

Cyanobacterial blooms in 2016 on Lake Okeechobee, Florida

Cyanobacterial blooms, such as the one shown that occurred in 2016 on Lake Okeechobee, Florida, can release toxins.

(Credit: Nicholas Aumen, US Geological Survey. Public domain.)

Our scientists on the Toxins and Harmful Algal Blooms Research Team of the U.S. Geological Survey' Environmental Health Mission Area (EHMA) work with multiple stakeholders to quantify toxin exposure and effects, identify hazards and vulnerabilities, develop tools to quantify and forecast toxin occurrence and exposure, and estimate socioeconomic impacts. Knowledge gained is being used to identify actual versus perceived health risks posed by harmful algal toxins.

The EHMA's science approach for understanding health impacts of algal toxins on humans and animals is a sequential process where each step informs the next in the laboratory and in the field. This is a truly trans-disciplinary approach involving teams of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists working in science centers and at field sites across the United States, and collaborations between USGS scientists with human health scientists and others from outside the USGS.

Current Science Questions and Activities

  • Assessment of the Occurrence, Fate, and Effects of Cyanotoxins in the Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon
  • Development of methods for measuring microcystins in fish tissues
  • Effects of Microcystin-LR on Juvenile Lost River suckers
  • Transcriptomic analysis of microcystin LR induced endocrine disruption in the endangered Lost River sucker
  • Microcystin-LR ingestion disrupts miRNA control of development and reproduction in the endangered Lost River suckers
  • Determining sub-lethal effects of microcystin-LR ingestion in Lost River suckers.
  • Determine bioaccessibility of cyanotoxins from ambient, finished drinking water, raw and cooked fish in simulated mammalian digestive systems
  • Review: Evaluation of Data and Method Validation Gaps in Dose-Dependent Animal Toxicity Studies for Cyanotoxins and Determination of Potential Impacts on Health Advisory Thresholds: A Chemistry Perspective
  • Nitrogen limitation, toxin synthesis potential, and toxicity of cyanobacterial populations in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River Estuary, Florida, during the 2016 State of Emergency event
  • Immunomodulation effects of microcystin-LR exposure in smallmouth bass
  • Toxicity of algal toxins in early life stages of freshwater fish
  • Biomarkers in response to acute and chronic exposure to microcystin and variants AND Cellular responses to microcystins and potential proactive response measures
  • Fish and Wildlife Exposure to Cyanotoxins at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
  • Algal blooms that lead to endocrine disruption
  • Evaluation of commercial personal drinking water purifiers for toxin removal
  • The History of Cyanotoxin and Algal Blooms Related Health Impacts on Reserved Federal Lands and U.S. Department of Interior Trust Species
  • The response of harmful algae to atmospheric stimuli and implication for ecosystem (i.e., wildlife) and human health