Cyanobacterial (blue-green algal) blooms in agricultural dugouts and eutrophic lakes or reservoirs are common across the Canadian prairies. These blooms have caused livestock and wildlife poisonings that have been attributed to neurotoxins and/or hepatotoxins produced by various species of cyanobacteria. The hepatotoxins are extremely potent acute poisons. For example, microcystin LR has an LD50 of 50 µg/kg, by intraperitoneal injection, in mice. Hepatotoxins may also pose chronic health risks. Consequently, their presence in drinking water sources is attracting increasing attention.
Chemical treatment with copper sulfate is the most common technique used to control algal blooms in drinking water reservoirs. Application of lime (calcium hydroxide) is an alternative treatment for the control of blooms. The effects of copper sulfate versus lime treatment on the release of microcystin LR from a naturally occurring bloom, involving three species of cyanobacteria including toxin-producing Microcystis aeruginosa, were studied.
Water samples collected after chemical treatment of algal bloom material were monitored for microcystin LR at specific time intervals. In three replicate trials, the cells treated with coppa- sulfate released the majority of the toxin present within cellular biomass during the first three days after treatment. Substantial toxin release was not observed when cells were untreated (control) or treated with lime. After release, the persistence of microcystin LR was monitored. The aqueous toxin concentrations declined according to first order kinetics with a decay constant of 0.25 d−1. The experimental conditions, involving high biomass content, may have favoured toxin degradation. The microcystin LR half life, under laboratory conditions, was 3 d from the time of maximum toxin release (2 to 4 d after chemical treatment), meaning that a 99% reduction would take approximately 3 weeks. These findings indicate that copper sulfate should not be used to treat potentially toxic cyanobacterial blooms in waters to be consumed by humans or animals within several weeks following treatment.