The National Park Service said during the first week of August that toxic bacteria had been found in multiple water bodies in Utah's Zion National Park.
The North Fork of the Virgin River, North Cree, and La Verkin Creek are three water bodies in the park that the Park Service claims contain cyanotoxins.
In various locations worldwide, lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water are home to photosynthetic bacteria. In other bodies of water, cyanobacteria can be seen floating on the surface or spreading throughout the water.
Scientists have discovered cyanobacteria in Zion at the bottom of the Virgin River and its tributaries. Benthic cyanobacteria are the sort of cyanobacteria found adhering to river bottoms. On rocks, plants, along the banks of rivers, and on the river's edge, benthic cyanobacteria flourishes.
Cyanobacteria, sometimes called blue-green algae, are a class of bacteria that generate these poisons. Although the algae are often not harmful and are found in ponds and lakes, they can develop into huge blooms that release cyanotoxins.
The National Park Service (NPS) has encouraged visitors not to swim or dunk their heads in the impacted Zion rivers and to refrain from drinking water from any source within the park.
The Narrows and Emerald Pools, two well-known parts of the park, are included in the watches and warnings. The NPS also advised consumers to seek immediate medical assistance after exposure. The agency ascribed the blooms in Zion to a protracted stretch of dry weather that allowed cyanobacteria to grow unfettered.
What are the symptoms of cyanotoxin exposure?
People may experience headache, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and irritation of the eyes, ears, nose, throat, or skin. Drooling, poor energy, lack of appetite, paralysis, and vomiting are among the signs that affect animals and pets. Extremely seldom, it can be lethal.
David Stevens from Utah State University emphasized that exposure can also include getting your clothes wet. When your shirt becomes wet, he added that it's the same as having a bare arm, so it doesn't matter if you wear a top.
Simply avoiding the water should keep people safe. Stevens continued by advising anyone who comes into contact with polluted water to quickly wash that part of their body with soap and water.
What has caused cyanotoxins?
According to Ramesh Goel of the University of Utah, pollution and climate change are factors in the growth of cyanobacteria.
Goel shared with NBC News that human activity pollutes water with phosphate and nitrogen, encouraging the formation of blue-green algae. He says surplus nutrients are released into rivers and lakes due to fertilizer runoff and persistent contaminants in wastewater treated in treatment facilities.
Additionally, Goel noted that increasing temperatures across the nation, which studies show are related to climate change, also favor the growth of the bacteria.
Stevens concluded that another factor contributing to the rise in cyanotoxins is the development of more homes near lakes and the discharge of septic systems into the water, which results in less clear, more algal-filled lakes.