Some blue algae or cyanobacteria are important for humans because of their nitrogen-fixing properties and as a valuable source of food. However, others are dangerous that can kill because of humans' own doings.
A new study showed that due to climate change and agricultural run-off, some environmental processes have spiraled out of control. Researchers said that they found a dangerous algal toxin produced by cyanobacteria not just in water but now also in the air.
The study, entitled "The detection of airborne anatoxin-a (ATX) on glass fiber filters during a harmful algal bloom" is published on April 1 in Lake and Reservoir Management.
They said that this is the first time that the toxin from the blue-green algae has been detected in water and the air. The algal toxin is called anatoxin-a (ATX) or also known as 'Very Fast Death Factor.'
As its name suggests, the toxin has been linked to the deaths of livestock, waterfowl, and dogs who drank from contaminated water.
"ATX is one of the more dangerous cyanotoxins produced by harmful algal blooms, which are becoming more predominant in lakes and ponds worldwide due to global warming and climate change," study first author James Sutherland from Nantucket Land Council said.
ATX or Very Fast Death Factor Disrupting the Ecosystem
According to ScienceAlert, ATX is produced by a range of cyanobacteria that bloom in nutrient-rich water. The cyanobacteria lower the oxygen level in the water and release ATX, disrupting the rest of the ecosystem.
When the bloom dies, the microbes that decompose it use even more oxygen which could create a massive fish die-off and dead zones in the area.
The algae blooms are exacerbated by agricultural run-off that enters the lakes and ponds from nearby fields or improperly treated wastewater.
If ingested, ATX can cause various symptoms that could sometimes be dangerous. This includes loss of coordination, muscular twitching, and paralysis. Some cases could also lead to the deaths of animals, like livestock, waterfowl, and dogs.
Very Fast Death Factor Detected in the Air
Although ATX has never been detected in the air before, Sutherland and his colleagues suspected that it might become airborne.
Authorities who spot an algal bloom usually tell people not to get near the water because of the dangers that the ATX brings. Despite no humans getting near the ATX-infested area, there is still a number of hospitalizations due to being intoxicated with the toxin from ingesting the water.
According to the press release posted in Scimex, researchers tested the samples of airborne particles they collected from around the edge of Capaum Pond on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts from July to October 2019. They used the method called liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to identify ATX in the air and water samples.
Researchers were able to find ATX in both pond water at concentrations of up to 21ng/mg, and air samples at an average concentration of 0.16ng/m3.
They are still unsure on how exactly ATX got mixed with the air but it could be that small water droplets attached to aerosol particles or that cyanobacteria got blown into the air.
As of now, there is no clear data yet of the effects of inhaling ATX from the air and so further research is needed. Researchers are warning people to be cautious when approaching still water with algal blooms.
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