The Egyptian Daily | Studying Campus Lake Algae

Southern Illinois University (SIU) Campus Lake closed again due to harmful toxins from algal blooms in the water.

The lake has had to close several times over the past few years due to dangerous algae in the water.

According to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (APEI)algal blooms, caused by the explosive reproduction of cyanobacteria, occur in Illinois lakes and streams and occur quickly in shallow warm waters that receive plenty of sunlight.

The flowers speckle on the water and float on the surface near the shores and usually occur during the summer months.

Zoologit is Dr. Majorie Brooks and microbiologist Scott Hamilton-Brehm have been studying campus lake algae for years to see how they form and how they release harmful toxins.

“As soon as the water in the lake warms above about 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 Farenheit, I don’t know if you’ve ever stepped foot in the campus lake, but it’s like stepping into a bathtub, so warm,” Brooks said.

Since the lake is very shallow and in a non-windy environment, the water tends to stagnate mainly in the arms of the lake, she said.

Brooks said she collected water samples around the start of the school year to do a follow-up study so she could determine the phosphate level.

“This high level of phosphate is coming into the lake, so the lake has 23 storm sewers, streams said. “We know that some of them drain surface water from campus, runoff from various parking lots, etc.”

streams says the last time the school emptied the lake halfway to clean it was in 2016. They cleaned up 23,000 tons of dried seaweed, testing it for contaminants and donating it to a local farmer to use as backfill on his farmland.

It’s actually not always a bad thing.” streams said. “It’s only [a] problem for society when it accumulates to this point and with climate change it gets worse.

The school needing donations for the fountains, streams and Hamilton-Brehm are studying the ecology and biochemistry of organisms to see if they can find a way for algae to release fewer toxins, she said.

Books said Facilities and Energy Management and the administration tried to find ways to improve the situation, one of them being to add some fountains.

“We need to think about preventing cyanobacterial blooms, which means oxygenating the water and reducing nutrients,” streams said. “When you add fountains, it also helps cool the water, which helps prevent this bloom.”

streams says that it is also something difficult to clean since cyanobacteria are a single-celled organism that floats on the surface of water.

A warning sign stands in front of the campus lake August 25, 2022 at the SIU in Carbondale, Illinois.
(Saba Saboor Rooh Mofrad | @ssaboor_)

“If you go out with a rake in the lake on campus, it’s just that these cyanobacteria are floating around, they’re just sliding through it,” streams said. “People are actually starting to develop these, if you will, like surface water weed killers to be able to get out.”

Making big changes to the lake would be nice but very expensive, streams said.

“Chang[ing] the shape of the lake to lower it, to deepen it, so to dig the depths and make it much deeper and also to put wetlands”, streams said. “Large wetlands in all the arms of the lake…that’s something that’s on the table for consideration.”

streams said it would take a lot of resources and heavy equipment to install wetlands, but overall it would be a very effective form of water treatment.

“Some cities treat their municipal wastewater through wetland water treatment and have been doing so for a long time,” streams said. “So we have role models there, [but] what we really needed was very high level funding to be able to do that in certain areas of life.

streams say it University Center for Environmental Health and Safety tests the water during the summer every week for its toxin level. If the water is below ten micrograms per liter level then it’s safe.

If it is greater than ten level of micrograms per liter which the center can call the Interim APE to make a more conclusive test.

Hamilton-Brehm said cyanobacterium is an important organism to study with its effect on the world.

“I specialize in extreme organisms and cyanobacteria are among the extremist organisms,” Hamilton-Brehm said. “These are some of the original organisms that started terraforming this planet, producing oxygen, and all that.”

Hamilton-Brehm says that not all cyanobacteria produce toxins, and toxin production is not entirely unknown.

You don’t want animals, pets, drinking water and stuff, there are a lot of nasty effects,” Hamilton-Brehm said. “What happens is it’s a phosphatase inhibitor, which affects our liver, and so, as animals, you know, dogs, cats, humans, whatever.. .it starts, this toxin starts, [that’s] really damaging [to] our liver, so that’s bad news.

When toxin levels get high in the water, it becomes very dangerous for humans to be there, but organisms already living in the water are usually unaffected, Hamilton-Brehm said.

“It’s not suitable for humans, so you don’t want to put your hands in it, you don’t want to drink it, you don’t want to swim in it.” Hamilton-Brehm said. “It’s just not a good place for mammals, fish and other organisms, they process them on a regular basis.”

Hamilton-Brehm and Brook’s research is ongoing as they continue to find a way to slow the toxins in the algae with encouraging results.

They’re in a beaker and, as you can imagine, trying to get from a beaker to a lake requires many, many steps and a lot of very careful scientific research,” streams said. “But we have had positive results and we are very encouraged.”

Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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