Raising Awareness About Harmful Algal Blooms Has Gone to the Dogs – Literally

By Patty Scott

If you’ve seen EPA’s water-specific Twitter feed or Facebook page lately, you may have noticed images of a stout little bulldog by the name of Odin or a video featuring an adorable labradoodle named Honey. These animal mascots are helping us raise awareness about harmful algal blooms, a serious, growing environmental and public health problem.

Harmful algal blooms, which thrive in nutrient-enriched waters, can make people and pets very sick. Excess nutrients from a variety of sources – agriculture, stormwater runoff, wastewater, fossil fuels, fertilizers, and household products – can lead to the explosive growth of algae in water. And certain species of algae – like blue-green algae or cyanobacteria – can release dangerous toxins. Dogs getting sick, or even dying, are often the first indicator when there’s been a harmful algal bloom.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been 38 dog fatalities between 2007-2011 related to harmful algal blooms. However, since there is no official record keeping, it’s difficult to know if the number is higher. Tragically, one 16-month-old black labrador named Axel died last month after swimming in the Middle Fork of the Willamette River in Oregon.

We’ve been using social media to help spread the word among pet owners. We’ve shared tweets, blogs, infographics and videos with a range of groups, who in turn are posting articles and retweeting our graphics and videos. You can help, too! Share this blog post with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.

We can all do our part; last month, I shared information with my own vet about Lake Needwood in Montgomery County, Maryland, where many dog owners take their pets. The lake now has warning signs posted about a cyanobacteria outbreak. As the owner of two beautiful yellow labs, I want to alert others to the hidden dangers at the lake that could be fatal to our furry friends.

You can help keep your waterbody safe by cutting back on your nutrient footprint. Help reduce nutrient pollution by properly using fertilizers, using phosphate-free detergents, soaps, and household cleaners, and picking up your pet’s waste. To learn more, tune in to our harmful algal bloom webcast series, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to check out our new public service announcements featuring Honey, now on the EPA YouTube channel! Finally, submit any images of algal blooms you spot on our State of the Environment Flickr page.

About the author: Patty Scott works in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds on communications and outreach.  She loves fishing, kayaking, cycling and other outdoor pursuits.

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