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Report says Iowa needs more water testing for harmful organism

DES MOINES — A study from the Environmental Working Group says Iowa needs to monitor more bodies of water for a toxin that’s produced by a microscopic organism called blue-green algae. The report says Iowa does routine weekly monitoring for microcystins on state park beaches, but it’s missing other locations like lakes, ponds and reservoirs.

EWG’s Anne Schechinger says the state should do more monitoring to keep people from getting sick as the microcystins can cause cancer or liver failure, among other things.  “Since they have such potentially serious public health impacts,” Schechinger says, “it’s really important to monitor so we can warn people to stay away from affected water bodies.”

A water quality supervisor with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says the state tests for microcystins in lakes too, but it’s a fairly new program. The state tests about 130 lakes up to three times a year. Schechinger says it’s a step in the right direction, but wants to see more frequent testing, while ponds and reservoirs should be included too. “You can’t tell if a blue-green algae bloom is toxic unless you test,” she says. “You can’t just look at it and tell it’s toxic. So you need to do testing in any body of water that people are going to recreate in or near to really keep people safe.”

Schechinger says Iowa tests for microcystins more often than Minnesota and Wisconsin, which don’t test every year.

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