WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- If you're looking at water and think it looks and smells bad, it probably is -- and possibly toxic too -- U.S. researchers say.
Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs, a USGS release said Monday.
In a recent study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present, the USGS said.
"While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins in the blooms sampled," USGS limnologist Jennifer Graham said. "This finding highlights the need for increased cyanotoxin surveillance during taste-and-odor events so that the public can be advised and waters can be effectively treated."
Limnology is the scientific study of the life and phenomena of fresh water.
Cyanotoxins can be poisonous to people, aquatic life, pets and livestock, and removing or treating affected water can be both costly and time-intensive, experts say.
"Exposure to these toxins has caused a range of symptoms including skin rashes, severe stomach upset, seizures, or even death," Keith Loftin, USGS research chemist, said.
"Pets and livestock are most susceptible to direct exposure, but people can also be affected during recreation, by eating contaminated foods, or by drinking contaminated water that has not been treated properly," he said.