Information on Cyanobacterial Blooms (Blue-green Algae Blooms) or Harmful Algal Blooms
- Harmful Algal Bloom FAQs
- CDC Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB)-Associated Illness
- Animal Safety Alert
- Physician Reference
- Veterinarian Reference
- West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
- Ohio EPA Algae Information for Recreational Waters
- Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commissioner (ORSANCO)
- Harmful Algal Bloom Online Resources (pdf with embedded links)
West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources
Harmful Algal Bloom Response Plans
Recent harmful algal blooms have highlighted the need for multi-agency, statewide harmful algal bloom response plans in West Virginia. A coordinated effort is crucial to successfully respond to harmful algal blooms. The purpose of West Virginia's Harmful Algal Bloom Response Plan is to provide a unified statewide approach to address harmful algal blooms in West Virginia's recreational waters and to protect people and animals from toxins produced by cyanobacteria. The focus of this plan is on public recreational waters, although these principles and practicies can apply to any body of water. The HAB response plan is an annex to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Public Health All Hazards Threat Response Plan. See the DHHR Public Health All Hazards Threat Response Plan and the West Virginia State Emergency Operations Plan for more information.
State agencies primarily responsible for responding to harmful algal blooms in West Virginia's recreational waters include West Virginia's BPH, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Division of Natural Resources (DNR) and Local Health Departments (LHDs). Federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and community partners also play an important role. The roles and responsibilities of each of the state agencies and partners that participated in the development of the recreational water response plan are detailed in the plan. Also included is background information on harmful algal blooms and the following response activities: observing and reporting potential harmful algal blooms; reporting illness in humans and animals; sampling, screening and cyanotoxin analysis; data management and information sharing; posting harmful algal bloom advisories; public awareness and education; and media outreach for harmful algal blooms.
A separate response plan for responding to HABs on sources of drinking water follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "Recommendations for Public Water Systems to Manage Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water" (2015) and includes guidance on testing private drinking water sources for the prsence of cyanotoxins and treatment options.
- 2018 Response Plan for Drinking Water in West Virginia
- EPAs Incident Action Checklist for Surface Water Utilities
Reporting Harmful Algal Blooms
Individuals or agencies that observe a potential HAB in public recreational waters are encouraged to report the HAB or complete an Algal Bloom Report Form and e-mail the form to West Virginia's HAB mailbox at HAB@wv.gov.
Reporting Harmful Algal Bloom-Associated Illness
Suspected or confirmed cases of HAB exposure and illness fall under Category II as "any unusual condition or emerging infectious disease" (WV Code 16-3-1; 64 CSR 7) and should be reported by healthcare facilities and providers to the LHD where the individual resides, within 24-hours of exposure, using the Human Illness Reporting Form. Veterinarians with knowledge of an animal case of HAB exposure and illness are encouraged to report this to the LHD where the animal resides using the Animal Illness Reporting Form. LHDs receiving HAB illness reports from physicians or veterinarians should fax completed forms to the BPH's Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services at 304-558-8736. Alternatively, LHDs can collect case information using the report forms and fax completed forms to the BPH.
Reports of harmful algal blooms and sampling data can be found at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Public Health Advisory Thresholds and Public Health Advisories
Public advisories are necessary to inform the public of the health risks associated with exposure to water that contains cyanotoxins. The State of West Virginia will issue two levels of advisories for recreational waters based upon the available evidence, as described below. It is recommended that all coordinating agencies post (and remove) advisories according to this plan to ensure consistency in messaging. Electronic versions of the sign templates are available below for use by LHDs and coordinating agencies to help ensure timely and consistent messaging across the state.
Public Health Advisory Threshold Levels for Cyanotoxins in Recreational Waters
a. HAB General Information Sign
Harmful algal bloom general information signs with the following language will also be posted for recreational waters with a history of HAB occurrence or upon confirmation of a potential HAB: "Have fun on the water, but know that blue-green algae are present in many of West Virginia's recreational waters. Their toxins may be, too. Be alert! Avoid water that: looks like spilled paint; has surface scums, mats or films; is discolored or has colored streaks; has green globs floating below the surface. Avoid swallowing the water!
b. Recreational Public Health Watch Advisory
When a potential HAB is confirmed and cyanotoxin levels are equal to or exceed the Recreational Public Health Watch Advisory Threshold level (6 micrograms/Liter for mircocystin), a Recreational Public Health Watch Advisory will be issued whether or not a HAB is still present. An ORANGE sign (with black lettering) with the following language will be posted: "A harmful algal bloom (HAB) is present and/or algal toxins have been detected in this area. Swimming and wading are not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women, those with certain medical conditions and pets. (The template is fillable so that LHDs can insert their contact information at the bottom of the sign.)
Once a HAB advisory is posted, sampling for cyanotoxin will occur according to standard sampling procedures for cyanotoxin found in the Harmful Algal Bloom Response Plan. The Public Health Watch Advisory may be lifted after two consecutive samples taken at least one week apart indicate cyanotoxin concentrations are below the watch advisory threshold level and the algal bloom has dissipated.
c. Recreational Public Health Warning Advisory
A Recreational Public Health Warning Advisory will be issued when cyanotoxin levels are equal to or exceed the Recreational Public Health Warning Advisory Threshold level (20 micrograms/Liter for mircocystin). A RED sign (with white lettering) with the following language will be posted: "Algal toxins at UNSAFE levels have been detected in this area. Swimming, wading and water activities that create spray are not recommended. (The template is fillable so that LHDs can insert their contact information at the bottom of the sign.)
A Public Health Warning Advisory may be lifted after two consecutive samples taken at least one week apart indicate cyanotoxin concentrations are below the warning advisory threshold level and the algal bloom has dissipated. If cyanotoxin levels remain above public health watch advisory levels, the warning advisory will be changed to a watch advisory.
d. HAB Fish Consumption Advisory Sign
Harmful algal bloom fish consumption advisory signs with the following language may be posted to address public concern regarding consuming fish caught from waters affected by a harmful algbal bloom: "A harmful algal bloom (HAB) is present and/ot algal toxins have been detected in these waters. Some algal toxins can accumulate in fish tissues, particularly in organs such as the liver and kidneys. Fish tissue monitoring and research have shown that fish fillets from fish caught in waters affected by a HAB should be safe to eat. As a precaution, the following ACTIONS are RECOMMENDED: remove and discard fat, skin, and internal organs before cooking; rinse fillets with clean water before cooking or freezing to remove any contaminants from the cleaning process; follow fish consumption advisories for West Virginia at http://www.wvdhhr.org/fish. (The template is fillable so that LHDs can insert their contact information at the bottom of the sign.)