The common wisdom held that algae blooms could only be caused by high concentrations of phosphorus in freshwater lakes, but new research show increased levels of nitrogen as bad as phosphorus for algae blooms formation in lakes.
At its 2015 conference last May in Burlington, Vermont, the International Association for Great Lakes Research held a session on that topic. chaired by Dan Peckham coordinator of the Harmful Algal Blooms Workgroup of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission.
Blue-green algae contains cyanobacteria, which produce the cyanotoxins that make seasonal blooms harmful, while green algae are harmless, according to Peckham. Blue-green algae is the source of the seasonal toxic blooms on portions of Lake Champlain.
Both nitrogen and phosphorus are needed to grow any kind of plant, including algae.
Nitrogen and phosphorus wash into water bodies and then release into the air. The chemicals come from stormwater, wastewater, fossil fuels, soaps and fertilizers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.
Paerl said freshwater researchers have developed tunnel vision by focusing on phosphorus for so long. The same protocols that keep phosphorus out of lakes and streams apply to nitrogen. he added.
Elevated levels of nitrogen in drinking water are also known to cause health problems in young children, according to the Vermont Health Department. Last year algae blooms were responsible for contaminating drinking water supplies for several communities on Lake Erie.
Mike Winslow, a staff scientist at the Lake Champlain Committee, said he has never known of a time where blooms in Lake Champlain have affected the quality of drinking water in Vermont.
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