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Great Lakes HABs Collaborative releases two fact sheets on human health and harmful algal blooms

Jun 1, 2022 | News and Announcements

Ann Arbor, Mich. – The Great Lakes HABs Collaborative today released two new fact sheets on the impacts of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on human health. The GLC released the fact sheets in advance of HABs season in the Great Lakes basin; early season projections for the annual bloom in Lake Erie began in May and are accessible on  NOAA’s website and also shared on Blue Accounting’s website.

The first fact sheet summarizes emerging research on chronic HABs toxin exposure on the body, including on the respiratory, neurological and cardiovascular systems. According to recent lab studies, HAB toxins may cause inflammation in the lungs and disrupt lung cell structure; may damage neurons and disrupt normal brain cell function; and can lead to cardiac inflammation and tissue scarring. Frequency of exposure, dose, and personal health conditions play an important role in how any of the various toxins that may be produced by a HAB can affect a person’s health. When spending time along Great Lakes coasts and inland waters, it is important to be aware of any signs posting local health advisories, which may include warnings related to the presence of a HAB.

The second fact sheet summarizes the current understanding of the effects of inhalation of HABs aerosols: when a HAB is agitated (by waves, wind, or boat traffic), it may release aerosols into the air, and aerosols generated from water with HABs have been found to contain HAB toxins. Some animal studies have demonstrated negative health consequences such as inflammation from the inhalation of HABs aerosols and some water users have reported respiratory irritation. An epidemiological study found respiratory symptoms were more likely in humans exposed to high levels of HAB aerosols.

“We already knew that the annual bloom in Western Lake Erie, and other HABs across the Great Lakes, have adverse effects on the environment and economy in communities across the basin,” said Todd L. Ambs, chair of the Great Lakes Commission, which leads the Great Lakes HABs Collaborative in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey – Great Lakes Science Center. “Now emerging science is showing us that the human health effects of HABs can be broad and serious as well. This is more evidence that we need to act now on a federal, regional, jurisdictional, and local level to combat HABs in the Great Lakes basin.”

Freshwater HABs are an annual occurrence during the summer and fall in the nearshore areas of the Great Lakes, as well as in inland waterbodies, and have the potential to disrupt ecosystems, impact water and air quality, and deter recreation. The Great Lakes HABs Collaborative is working to establish a common agenda on science and management needs to help the region work together to prevent and manage HABs.


The Great Lakes Commission, led by chair Todd L. Ambs, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (retired), is a binational government agency established in 1955 to protect the Great Lakes and the economies and ecosystems they support. Its membership includes leaders from the eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces in the Great Lakes basin. The GLC recommends policies and practices to balance the use, development, and conservation of the water resources of the Great Lakes and brings the region together to work on issues that no single community, state, province, or nation can tackle alone. Learn more at www.glc.org.

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For media inquiries, please contact Hannah Reynolds, [email protected].

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