Flying slime may bring toxins with it

July 30, 2019
Contact: Andrew Ault

ANN ARBOR—In 2018, University of Michigan chemistry researchers Andrew Ault and Kerri Pratt showed that when waters that contain harmful algal blooms break against shorelines and piers, biological material from those algal blooms can go airborne.

Next, Ault turned his attention to whether toxins from those algal blooms could become airborne as well. The answer? Yes.

“We have collected samples from Mona Lake in western Michigan as well as some other lakes, and when we generate aerosols from that water in the lab, we do see toxins from the water go into the aerosol,” Ault said. “Now, we plan to study how far these toxins can transport inland from lakes—measuring it not just from collecting aerosols in the lab, but in the field.”

The team plans to travel to Grand Lake St. Marys, a shallow, manmade lake originally used as a feeder reservoir for the Miami-Erie Canal in Ohio. Because the lake is only five to seven feet deep, it usually develops harmful algal blooms every year. There, they will work with a team from Virginia Tech and Wayne State, using drones to collect aerosol samples from over lake’s surface.

Ault isn’t sure whether 2019’s record high lake levels equates to more aerosols being generated. Larger waves form in shallower lakes, but with higher water levels, water is breaking against objects it didn’t used to reach. Either way, this year’s rainy spring and summer is a bigger contributor to harmful algal blooms: More rain run-off washes more nitrogen and phosphate into the water, creating ideal conditions for the blooms.


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