SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – As boaters and swimmers visit lakes and rivers this summer, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is raising awareness of potentially harmful algal blooms in the water.

According to SCDHEC, algae and cyanobacteria are tiny plant-like organisms that, under the right conditions can overgrow in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

This rapid growth can be associated with foam, scum or thick layers of algae on the surface of the water.

Algal blooms can look and smell bad and may cause the water to appear green, red-brown, or blue in color, according to DHEC. Some algal blooms are formed by species that can produce toxins.

When they contain toxins that affect the health of people, animals and the environment, they are known as harmful algal blooms (HABs).

“If you’re planning on recreating in a water body, we advise you to visually inspect the water before going in,” said Emily Bores, DHEC’s HAB Coordinator. “If you notice a foul smell or discoloration, it’s best to err on the side of caution and stay away. Remember, when in doubt, stay out.”

DHEC said you cannot tell whether or not a bloom is harmful just by looking at it, so if an algal bloom is suspected, keep yourself, others and pets away from the area. 

To notify DHEC of a bloom in the state’s lakes, rivers, streams or estuaries, contact the HAB hotline at 803-898-8374 or email the HAB Coordinator.