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Deadly blue-green algae found in two Nebraska lakes; danger for pets, people

Blue-green algae can usually be found anywhere bodies of fresh water meet pollution from agricultural and development runoff. When coupled with summer’s high temperatures, blue-green algae can rapidly grow.
Posted at 12:16 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 13:16:18-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — According to a release from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), a health alert has been issued for “Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), also known as toxic blue-green algae” at Rockford Lake in Gage County and Swan Creek Lake (Willard L. Meyer Recreation Area) in Saline County. Wirth Brothers Lake (Site 27) in Johnson County is still on health alert as well.

The DHHS' said:

Lakes removed from health alerts are Calamus Reservoir in Loup County and Iron Horse Trail Lake in Pawnee County.

Samples taken earlier this week at the lakes on alert measure above the threshold of 8 parts per billion (ppb) of total microcystin, which is a toxin released by certain strains of blue-green algae. Based on recommendations issued in 2019 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the state of Nebraska adopted this limit after concluding that the new EPA threshold is based on the best scientific evidence available and is protective of public health.

When a health alert is issued, signs are posted to advise the public to use caution, and designated swimming beaches are closed during the alert. Recreational boating and fishing are permitted, but the public is advised to use caution and avoid exposure to the water, particularly avoiding any activity that could lead to swallowing the water. Do not let pets get in the water or drink from the lake. People can still use the public areas for camping, picnics and other outdoor activities.

Weekly sampling has been conducted at 53 public lakes since the first week of May. The lakes will continue to be monitored weekly through the end of September. Sampling results for HAB and bacteria will be updated every Friday and posted on NDEE’s website, The state’s monitoring is conducted at public lakes with swimming beaches and high public activity. HAB may also be present in other lakes in Nebraska that are not tested, so the public should use caution if they see signs of algal blooms.

For more information about what to look for, potential health effects from HAB and steps to avoid exposure, please refer to the following Fact Sheet. To view the weekly data for the lakes sampled, go to

NDEE’s sampling partners include the Central District Health Department, Nebraska Public Power District, Upper Republican Natural Resources District, Lower Republican NRD, South Platte NRD, Middle Niobrara NRD, Lower Loup NRD, Nemaha NRD, Lower Elkhorn NRD and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

According to the CDC, people can get sick by exposure to droplets through:

  • Skin
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Lungs

Symptoms of ingestion in humans include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Neurological symptoms (for example, muscle weakness, dizziness)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Liver damage

If exposed, the CDC recommends contacting your doctor or a local poison control center and said you should report it to your local or state health department.

According to the ASPCA, animals can develop severe symptoms of exposure by drinking or just swimming in water that is contaminated by HAB and suffer "severe neurologic or liver damage."

The ASPCA said signs of exposure include:

  • Seizures
  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Respiratory failure
  • Diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Liver failure
  • Ultimately death

If you think your pet may have ingested HAB, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 immediately.

More information from the CDC.

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