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World Health Organization Publication : Year 2003 ; Issue 9241545801 Chapter 8: Chapter 8 ; Algae and Cyanobacteria in Fresh Water

By World Health Organization

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Book Id: WPLBN0000173280
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Reproduction Date: 2005
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Title: World Health Organization Publication : Year 2003 ; Issue 9241545801 Chapter 8: Chapter 8 ; Algae and Cyanobacteria in Fresh Water  
Author: World Health Organization
Language: English
Subject: Health., Public health, Wellness programs
Collections: Medical Library Collection, World Health Collection
Publication Date:
Publisher: World Health Organization


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Organization, W. H. (n.d.). World Health Organization Publication : Year 2003 ; Issue 9241545801 Chapter 8. Retrieved from

Medical Reference Publication

The term algae refers to microscopically small, unicellular organisms, some of which form colonies and thus reach sizes visible to the naked eye as minute green particles. These organisms are usually finely dispersed throughout the water and may cause considerable turbidity if they attain high densities. Cyanobacteria are organisms with some characteristics of bacteria and some of algae. They are similar to algae in size and, unlike other bacteria, they contain blue-green and green pigments and can perform photosynthesis. Therefore, they are also termed blue-green algae (although they usually appear more green than blue). Human activities (e.g., agricultural runoff, inadequate sewage treatment, runoff from roads) have led to excessive fertilization (eutrophication) of many water bodies. This has led to the excessive proliferation of algae and cyanobacteria in fresh water and thus has had a considerable impact upon recreational water quality. In temperate climates, cyanobacterial dominance is most pronounced during the summer months, which coincides with the period when the demand for recreational water is highest. Livestock poisonings led to the study of cyanobacterial toxicity, and the chemical structures of a number of cyanobacterial toxins (cyanotoxins) have been identified and their mechanisms of toxicity established. In contrast, toxic metabolites from freshwater algae have scarcely been investigated, but toxicity has been shown for freshwater species of Dinophyceae and also the brackish water Prymnesiophyceae and an ichthyotoxic species (Peridinium polonicum) has been detected in European lakes (Pazos et al., in press; Oshima et al., 1989). As marine species of these genera often contain toxins, it is reasonable to expect toxic species among these groups in fresh waters as well. Although many species of freshwater algae proliferate quite intensively in eutrophic waters, they do not accumulate to form dense surface scums (often termed blooms) of extremely high cell density, as do some cyanobacteria. The toxins that freshwater algae may contain are therefore not accumulated to concentrations likely to become hazardous to human health or livestock. For these reasons, this chapter will focus primarily on the health impacts of cyanobacteria. More detailed coverage of cyanobacteria and human health is available in Toxic Cyanobacteria in Water (Chorus & Bartram, 1999).

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