Environment

Kentucky state officials are warning people to stay out of portions of the Ohio River, after harmful algal blooms were identified earlier this week.

These algal blooms are a type of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. It can irritate your skin if you’re exposed to it for a prolonged period. The algae can also cause nausea and other gastrointestinal problems.

The two main factors that contribute to harmful algal blooms are nutrient pollution — like runoff from agricultural operations and sewage overflows — and warmer water.

ohio_river_hab_advisory_mapwcountiesKY Department for Environmental Protection

The recreation advisory covers the river from the West Virginia state line downriver to Meldahl Dam in Bracken County, as well as parts of the Little Sandy River. The state departments for Environmental Protection and Public Health recommend:

•    Individuals should avoid direct contact with affected water that has unusual color or where blue-green bacteria have been identified, including swimming, wading, paddling, diving and water skiing.
•    People who are prone to respiratory allergies or asthma should avoid areas with HABs. Children may be particularly sensitive.
•    If contact has been made with water containing blue-green algae, wash off with fresh water. In some cases, skin irritation will appear after prolonged exposure. If symptoms persist, consult your health care provider.
•    If fishing in affected waters, fish fillets (not organs) may be consumed after the fillets have been rinsed in clean, non-lake water.
•    Prevent pets and livestock from coming into contact with water where HAB is apparent.

So far, the Kentucky Division of Water hasn’t found any signs of contamination in treated drinking water pulled from the Ohio River, but regulators will continue to conduct tests.

The river provides drinking water to more than three million people, including in Cincinnati and Louisville. Last year, an algal bloom in Lake Erie shut down the city of Toledo’s drinking water for several days.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.