Most algae blooms you may spot in New Jersey's lakes and ponds are harmless. But a certain class of bloom — the focus of a new effort from the state — is known to environmental experts for its ability to produce toxins that can pose a risk to the health of people and animals.

Harmful Algal Bloom
Harmful algal bloom (NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection)

The just-launched Avoid It and Report It effort from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection aims to educate the public on harmful algal blooms (HABs) in freshwater bodies, and offer multiple outlets to report any suspected incidences of these blooms.

So far this summer, New Jersey has responded to a total of nine confirmed or suspected HAB cases, in Burlington, Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth and Sussex counties.

"A lot of these blooms look like a typical algae bloom," DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said of the potentially dangerous cyanobacteria. Their blue-green makeup may look like "pea soup" in the water, or spilled paint.

The blooms do not always produce toxins, the department noted, but if they do, rashes can occur when cells come in contact with the skin, and ingestion can result in gastrointestinal issues.

"We also can't forget about our pets," Hajna said. "A lot of us may not take a dive into water that has algae, but we might let our dogs romp through it."

As part of the state's campaign, a new HAB website has been launched to educate the public. On that site, users can report a suspected HAB in New Jersey. Reports can also be made through the department's WARN NJDEP smartphone app, or by calling its toll-free hotline 877-WARN-DEP.

When a report comes in, Hajna said, experts will determine whether an investigation is necessary. If HAB is confirmed in a body of water, the public will either be instructed through signage to avoid contact with the water, or the body of water will be closed off until the bloom dissipates.

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