Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019MO148B

Algae, stench, and death: are algal toxins present in Missouri fish?

Institute: Missouri
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-05-31 End Date: 2020-05-30
Total Federal Funds: $21,085 Total Non-Federal Funds: $42,616

Principal Investigators: Dr. Rebecca North

Abstract: There has been a global increase in potentially toxic cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) over the last several decades that may be linked to increased nutrient loading and a changing climate. CyanoHABs can produce toxins that have implications for drinking water, recreation use, and fish consumption. The societal and economic consequences of CyanoHABs were exemplified by Lake Erie in the summer of 2014, where over 500,000 people in Toledo, Ohio did not have a safe source of drinking water. Toxin ingestion through recreational activities, drinking water, or in contaminated fish, pose serious human health and livestock risks; thus, CyanoHABs are a significant global water resource issue. Despite decades of research on CyanoHABs, it is still not understood what controls toxin production or how to predict and mitigate their formation. The objectives of this project are to assess the implications of CyanoHABs and associated toxins on fish populations with implications for human health. During CyanoHAB events, guidance is well established for recreating on the water, but is lacking for consumption of fish caught during or after a bloom. Similar to the worldwide trend, Missouri has documented an increase in the number of reported CyanoHABs. During May through September, 2016 a record thirteen blooms were documented. For all of these incidents, the public has requested guidance on the use of the water by humans and animals, and the safety of consuming fish in affected systems. We propose to develop a model in which we can predict the presence or absence, and concentration of algal toxins in fish tissue by examining a suite of landscape, water body, water quality, and algal community variables. This information will allow for data-driven fish consumption advisories. Currently, the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (MDHSS) advises the public to avoid eating fish caught during- and for two weeks following- a visible algal bloom. However, recent findings indicate variability in the persistence of algal toxins in the aquatic environment and in fish tissue, and often algal toxins are present in the absence of a surface bloom. This pilot project seeks to develop a data-driven method to inform fish consumption advisories associated with algal toxins. We are proposing to collect year-round samples from a representative agricultural reservoir to quantify the cyanotoxins present in water throughout the water column. We will attempt to correlate water cyanotoxin concentrations with toxin concentrations in fish muscle, liver, and kidneys to determine the mechanism and timing of exposure to toxins. This knowledge will have implications for human health through consumption and will allow the development of fish advisories in Missouri. Knowing whether or not cyanotoxins are present, and the level of their concentrations in fish consumed by Missouri citizens has long-term human health implications.