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Great Lakes Article:

Zebra mussels boost algae growth
Associated Press
03/12/04


PONTIAC, MICH. -- A study has found the presence of zebra mussels in inland lakes promotes the growth of a blue-green algae that produces a toxin harmful to people and animals. The study, conducted by researchers from Michigan State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, found lakes infested with zebra mussels have, on average, levels of a blue-green algae called Microcystis three times higher than lakes without the mussels.

The infested lakes also have about twice the level of microcystins -- poisons produced by the algae.

While the findings may alarm some who live around such lakes, one of the study's authors cautions against panic.

"I'm not familiar with any instance of people being poisoned just by swimming," Orlando (Ace) Sarnelle, an associate professor at MSU, said in a report published today.

"You have to ingest the water and you have to consume large quantities."

The toxin can cause liver damage if it is consumed in large enough amounts.

The study included water samples from about 100 inland lakes in Michigan.

Sarnelle said the number of blue-green algae blooms has increased in Michigan's inland lakes and appears to be linked to the spread of the mussels.

While the zebra mussels eat algae, they tend to steer clear of the toxic blue-green algae.

Sarnelle said in lakes where nutrient levels are naturally low, the concentration of the toxins is unlikely to be high enough to pose a risk to humans and animals.

The study, published in the academic journal Limnology and Oceanography, found the zebra mussels don't appear to affect the amount of Microcystis in lakes with high levels of phosphorus, a nutrient that results from erosion, fertilizer runoff and human waste.

"In a lot of lakes we've sampled, we're not seeing levels that are alarming -- they're just higher than they used to be," he said.

While none of the inland lakes in the study provide drinking water, blue-green algae blooms have been observed in the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water for an estimated 40 million people.


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