Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018VT90B

A field study to investigate potentially toxic cyanobacteria aerosols from Shelburne Pond and a farm field in Vermont

Institute: Vermont
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $9,997 Total Non-Federal Funds: $21,753

Principal Investigators: Jason Stockwell, Natalie Flores, Elijah Stommel

Abstract: Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are a world-wide phenomenon that have negative impacts on aquatic systems and human health, and are projected to increase with anthropogenic eutrophication and climate change. The chief concern with HABs in fresh water is the production of toxins (cyanotoxins) from the organisms responsible for forming algal blooms in these systems, cyanobacteria. Cyanotoxins have resulted in closures of public drinking water systems and recreational sites. While the potential for exposure via different routes (either direct or indirect) is known, the significance of the different routes for human exposure are unknown due to limited field work to investigate these pathways in the nature. Direct exposures to cyanotoxins can occur by swimming in or drinking contaminated water and inhalation of aerosols containing cyanobacteria cells or toxins. Indirect exposures can occur through consumption of plants or animals that have contacted cyanotoxins. Humans and animals have suffered illness and death upon acute exposure to cyanotoxins, but the long-term effects of exposure are unknown. Current research suggests a possible link between human diseases, including liver cancer and neurological disorders, and cyanotoxins. Long-term or frequent exposure to cyanotoxins from a local source could be an important concern for human health. Aerosolization is hypothesized to be an important route of direct exposure for people. In Vermont, recurring algal blooms in inland waters across the state have prompted beach closures and ongoing research to learn more about the dangers of these blooms to the community. Vermont is largely an agricultural state, and many bodies of water adjacent to farmland suffer from HABs throughout the summer and fall. We propose to test two local sources for cyanobacterial aerosols. The first site is Shelburne Pond, which has a history of recurring cyanobacteria blooms. We will place aerosol collectors both over the lake (at the source), and at specified distances from the lake to examine changes in aerosols of cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins over time and space and across varying weather conditions. Past and ongoing research on Shelburne Pond shows toxic blooms frequently occur during summer. A second source of possible airborne cyanobacteria are farm fields sprayed with liquid manure-based fertilizers. We will collect samples from a farm field in Shelburne using the same methods to determine if farms sprayed with nutrient-rich fertilizers (i.e., food for cyanobacteria) can produce aerosols containing cyanobacteria and/or cyanotoxins. Holding tanks that store liquid mixtures of manure, whey, and other components that form fertilizers are ideal habitats for cyanobacteria. When fertilizers are applied to fields, aerosols may form during the spraying process, and fertilizer application may generate cyanobacterial growth in the soils. Dried topsoil can later spread airborne cyanobacteria cells by wind or other physical disturbances. Our main objectives are to test aerosols from (1) Shelburne Pond and (2) a local farm field to identify and quantify aerosolized cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins in Shelburne, VT. The results from this study will allow us to determine if aerosols containing cyanobacteria pose a risk to the local community.