Baylor Researcher Studies Effects of Harmful Algal Blooms on Water Quality

  • Bryan Brooks
    Bryan W. Brooks, Ph.D., professor of environmental science and biomedical studies in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences and director of the environmental science graduate program and the environmental health science program.
  • Brooks in the field
    Bryan Brooks, Ph.D., working in the field.
Jan. 6, 2016

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WACO, Texas (Jan. 4, 2016) – Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur naturally, but their outbreaks are influenced by climate change and droughts, nutrient enrichment and manmade factors, such as contaminants from sewage and stormwater discharge, natural resource extraction and agricultural runoff. HABs represent another challenge to water quality and are of increasing concern to scientists.

Bryan W. Brooks, Ph.D., professor of environmental science and biomedical studies in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences and director of the environmental science graduate program and the environmental health science program, is working to understand and address issues caused by HABs.

"Harmful algal toxins, which are a group of contaminants of emerging concern, highlight the importance of not employing a ‘one size fits all’ approach to water quality assessment and management," Brooks said. "Because algal toxins can confound determinations of water quality degradation and result in false identification of causative contaminants, it will be important to develop and implement best available scientific tools during environmental monitoring, assessment and management efforts."

In a recent journal article in the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Brooks and his co-authors explore inland surface water quality assessment to identify the current challenges and seek solutions to the threats HABs present to public health and the environment.

The magnitude, frequency and duration of HABs appear to be increasing at a global scale. These HAB events are difficult to predict and vary among species and environmental conditions. However, the ecological and health risks some of these blooms present are well documented.

Yet in the U.S. and Canada, many states, tribes and territories do not have formal HAB or algal toxin monitoring programs for inland surface waters. HAB observations from Africa, Asia and Latin America are occasional, and the environmental assessment and management programs there are less developed. In Europe and in some cases in the U.S., water quality is checked for priority substances, which do not include HABs or their toxins.

Coastal monitoring of HABs and their impacts to fisheries, agriculture and potable water supplies are routinely observed. Recently, some programs are starting to also focus on freshwaters, but the limited efforts, lack of criteria, predictive modeling, and availability of scientific tools and techniques hinder the ability to protect inland water ecosystem functions and services.

"There is little doubt that inland HABs present the greatest threat to inland water quality in some places, in some cases and at some times. Unfortunately, we are not effectively delivering the essential services of environmental public health and ecosystem protection. We must adapt environmental assessment and management efforts to address this potentially transformative threat," Brooks said.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

The College of Arts and Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 26 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.

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