UVM initiates study of algae blooms and human health

Observer file photo
The plan to reduce phosphorous in Lake Champlain was recently released by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded the University of Vermont a $600,000 grant to investigate links between Lake Champlain toxic algae blooms and human health.

The study will inform how communities in Vermont, and in other parts of the country where toxic algae blooms are prevalent, take action to minimize the negative effects associated with the blooms.

“Science has demonstrated multiple links between cyanobacteria blooms and human health and well-being,” said Rachelle Gould of UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. “This project explores links of emerging concern and then investigates how the community processes that information.”

During the three-year investigation, a team of interdisciplinary researchers will investigate how algal toxins may travel in fish tissue and as aerosols, and how the blooms affect non-material aspects of well-being such as connection to place. The team will then analyze how communities process scientific information about these links to human well-being and how people feel empowered or disempowered to affect change.

“In many communities, awareness of these concerns has not readily transformed into policy and behavior change that could reduce bloom impacts,” said Gould. “To help communities develop preventative or adaptive measures, one important step is to explore how people process complex information and determine how to make change.”

The study will focus on St. Albans, where the bay has been an algae bloom hotspot.

Project partners include Franklin Grand Isle Community Action and Lake Champlain International.

“Recognizing that households with limited resources are often impacted disproportionally by adverse environmental conditions, this study will better equip our agency to anticipate the future needs of low-income households in the affected areas and help them strategize about effective remedies,” said Robert Ostermeyer, director of the Franklin Grand Island Community Action program.

The study will also measure the impacts of algal toxins in the tissues of fish.

“We have very little information about how many and how much cyanobacteria toxins can accumulate in fish,” said UVM’s Jason Stockwell.

“I congratulate Dr. Gould and Dr. Stockwell and their team for taking on such an important, but complicated, set of questions,” Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy added. “I am proud that the EPA selected this project … to help us learn more about how water pollution and algae blooms may affect our health and our communities.”

The UVM grant was one of four grants funded and part of more than $2 million awarded by the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program.