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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS Rise of Algae Blooms in Cook County

COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS Rise of Algae Blooms in Cook County

By: Tim Nelson, Land Services Director

COOK COUNTRY, MINNESOTA   August 7, 2021  (LSNews)  There has been an increase of Algae blooms in some of our inland lakes this summer due to the warm weather and water conditions, and the increase in blue-green algae has been particularly noticeable.   With the increase in blooms, there has also been an increase of concerns as to how that might affect our health and safety associated with the use of the lake water. 

At the local level of Government, Cook County is also concerned about the potential adverse impacts that the algae blooms may have on environmental health.  Since we do not have the local expertise regarding the testing and impacts of these algae blooms, we have been consulting with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).  The following are some excerpts from the MPCA web page regarding “Harmful Algae Blooms” or HAB’s:


When temperatures climb and the summer sun beats down, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algae blooms, some of which can be harmful to pets and humans.  Blue-green algal blooms are often described as looking like pea soup or spilled green paint. However, blooms aren’t always large and dense and can sometimes cover small portions of the lake with little visible algae present. Blooms can also produce a swampy odor when the cells break down.  Blue-green algae blooms are harmful when they produce toxins that can make humans and animals sick. Most blooms are not harmful.

You can't tell by looking at a bloom if it is harmful or not, but the MPCA suggests performing two simple tests, the “jar test” or the “stick test,” using rubber or latex gloves. To perform the jar test, fill a jar about three-quarters full and screw a lid on, then refrigerate undisturbed overnight. If, the next morning, the algae have settled near the bottom, it’s likely the lake does not have a lot of blue-green algae. If the algae have formed a green ring at the top of the water, there is a strong possibility the lake does have a blue-green algae community. For more detailed directions, and to learn about the “stick test,” see

 Algae that settles near the bottom of the jar, after being refrigerated overnight, means it is unlikely the lake has a blue-green algae community (left), but if it settles near the top (right), there is a strong possibility a blue-green algae community is present

Photo credit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.


What are the possible health effects?

You can become sick if you swallow, have skin contact with, or breathe in airborne water droplets while swimming, boating, waterskiing, tubing, bathing, or showering in water that has harmful algae or if you drink water that contains algal toxins. If you become sick, you might experience vomiting, diarrhea, rash, eye irritation, cough, sore throat, and headache. Symptoms generally begin hours to two days after exposure. 

How can I reduce my risks from harmful algae blooms?

Avoid or minimize recreating in waters that appear to have a blue-green algae bloom; if you do come in contact with algae-laden water, wash with fresh water afterwards.  Avoid using untreated lake or river water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth, especially for infants and small children. Boiling water will not destroy algae toxins and could actually increase toxin levels. Simple treatment options are also not effective; multiple treatment steps are typically needed to remove algae toxins.

Water that may be contaminated can be used for handwashing, bathing, washing dishes, or laundry, though it may irritate skin. Young children should be supervised when swimming to prevent them from swallowing water and should be rinsed with uncontaminated water afterwards. Items that go into the mouths of infants and young children (i.e., teething rings, nipples, bottles, toys, dishes and silverware) should be rinsed with uncontaminated water if they are washed in contaminated water.

For further information, please contact either the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-4906, or the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency at 800-657-3864, or visit their website at:

By: Tim Nelson, Land Services Director

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.

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Cook County is at the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead region in the remote northeastern part of the state, stretching from the shores of Lake Superior to the US-Canada border. By land it borders Ontario, Canada to the north, and Lake County, MN to the west.  The highest point in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain is 2,301 feet and the highest lake,  Total Area equals 3,339.72 sq miles

Cook County is home to three national protected areas:
Grand Portage National Monument
Superior National Forest
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Cook County include:
 Grand Marais     Lutsen Mountains
 Gunflint Trail      Superior Hiking Trail
 Grand Portage 

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The Lake Superior Circle Tour in northern Wisconsin (highway 13), loops around Lake Superior state highways in the US states of Michigan, Minnesota (highway 61) and Wisconsin and provincial highways in the Canadian province of Ontario (highway 17). These highways are usually the closest to the lake.

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The Great Lakes — Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Erie — make up the largest body of fresh water on Earth, accounting for one-fifth of the freshwater surface on the planet at 6 quadrillion gallons. The area of all the Great Lakes is 95,160 square miles (246,463 square kilometers) and span 750 miles (1,200 km) from west to east.



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