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By Anthony Verschoor

Airborne dispersal of Cyanobacteria

Scientists from Michigan State University have investigated whether harmful algae and associated compounds can be present in aerosols.

Green cyanobacterial blooms on the Great Lakes an airborne health risk?

By REBECCA WILLIAMS • JAN 23, 2018

“The identification of biological material associated with individual LSA particles and its relation to BGA concentration in this study demonstrates that freshwater wave breaking should be further studied as a vector for the introduction of aquatic toxins into the atmosphere.”
Source: Michigan Radio.

 

This is not only relevant for large surface waters with breaking waves, but also on other locations with aerosol-exposure risk, such as urban waters with fountains or bathing waters. Moreover, the methodology could also be applied to study other airborne health risks, such as transfer of Veterans’ Disease through inhalation of Legionella pneumophila. This will become increasingly relevant in the near future, as intensifying water reuse may also create greater aerosol-associated risks.

Without touching or swallowing the water, lake spray aerosol formation creates novel airborne exposure risks to harmful algal blooms and toxins.

Can cyanobacteria and toxins spread through air?

Surface water with harmful algal blooms (HABs, notably cyanobacteria) and their organic compounds may also affect the surrounding air.

This was investigated through sampling locations differing in cyanobacteria abundance at the American Great Lakes. Sites with higher HAB abundance had higher incidence of droplets containing organic and biological material. Although the authors emphasize the atmospheric effects of HABs, the article also points at possible exposure to cyanobacteria and their toxins through inhalation.

“The identification of biological material associated with individual LSA particles and its relation to BGA concentration in this study demonstrates that freshwater wave breaking should be further studied as a vector for the introduction of aquatic toxins into the atmosphere.”

The paper describes a variety of novel laboratory techniques, which can be applied for aerosol microbiology.

Samples were sprayed in a controlled manner via an ingenious ‘bubble blower’ (“Lake Spray Aerosol Generator”). Individual droplets were analysed on chemical composition by an array of analytical techniques: single-particle mass spectrometry, scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and fluorescence microscopy.

“The increased fluorescence of particles associated with increased BGA concentration is indicative of increased biological particle content as organic molecules of biological origin, such as proteins and coenzymes, exhibit intrinsic fluorescence, providing a means for bioaerosol detection”

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