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Schumer Battles Toxic Algae

May 15, 2014 11:08 AM EDT

Dangerous blue-green algae has been found in nearly 100 lakes and ponds in upstate New York, prompting Senator Charles Schumer to ask that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) help his state battle the potentially toxic blooms.

The US Senator is asking the EPA to issue new guidelines that would require treatment plants to test and prevent cyanotoxins from contaminating drinking water sources.

Cyanotoxins have been proven to sicken animals and people, and are produced by blue-green algae blooms. The algae has reportedly been appearing more frequently each year, with 147 locations showing dangerous toxic algae levels just last summer, according to a report issued by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

New York reportedly topped last year's list, issuing public health warnings at 50 different lakes and ponds. This year it is projected that double that number of water sources will warrant warnings, as groundwater runoff from a long winter and rainy spring set up ideal conditions for the spread of the algae by summer.

"Excessive runoff is feeding an explosion of toxic algae that is choking our waters, closing our beaches, and posing a threat to people, pets, and wildlife. This is a national problem that demands a national solution," Andy Buchsbaum, the regional executive director of the NWF's Great Lakes Regional Center, said in the 2013 report.

Schumer echoed those sentiments in a conference call on Wednesday.

"I'm announcing a two-pronged plan that will help keep New Yorkers safe and protect our valuable lakes and reservoirs," Shumer said. "First, I am urging the EPA to issue guidance and recommendations to local water treatment plans on how best to test for and treat these cyanotoxins. Second, I am pushing the EPA to develop clear water quality criteria for cyanotoxin levels in ambient water so that states like New York can better identify contaminated lakes and implement programs that will improve water quality."

Over a dozen countries currently test water for cyanotoxins - which have been known to cause fever, joint pain, and vomiting - but the United States is not one of them. The NWF reports that no federal agency currently tracks lake closures or health warnings nationally and only a minority of states monitor lakes and rivers for algal-related toxins. Schumer claims that if the monitoring and management of cyanotoxins became a federal agenda, that could all change.

A press release was issued by the office of Sen. Chuck E. Schumer on May 14.

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