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​​Harmful Algal Blooms

A harmful algal bloom (HAB) occurs when certain kinds of microscopic organisms multiply and produce toxins in a waterbody or waterway. The microscopic organisms that most commonly cause HABs in Pennsylvania's fresh and brackish waters are cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. While cyanobacteria are a natural part of many aquatic ecosystems, under certain conditions, like high nutrients and warm temperatures, some kinds of cyanobacteria can produce cyanotoxins. HABs can form at any time but most often in late summer or early fall. HABs may move and their toxicity may change rapidly, requiring ongoing surveillance and response throughout the season.

People and animals can encounter HABs that are in the environment by physically touching, ingesting, and inhaling cyanobacteria and/or cyanobacteria toxins while swimming and boating; eating fish caught in contaminated water; using contaminated water to prepare food; or drinking contaminated water. For dogs and livestock, eating scum or algae and licking fur after swimming in contaminated water could be HABs exposures.

In high enough concentrations, cyanotoxins from HABs can be harmful to people, pets, livestock, and wildlife that come in contact with or ingest them. Those who encounter these toxins can experience severe illness including vomiting; diarrhea; neurological symptoms; skin, eye, nose, or throat irritation; or even death.

To coordinate monitoring, response, and communications about HABs in Pennsylvania, several Commonwealth agencies and commissions formed the Pennsylvania HABs Task Force, which includes representatives from:

  • the Pennsylvania Department of Health;
  • the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection;
  • the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources;
  • the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture;
  • the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission;
  • the Pennsylvania Game Commission; and
  • the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Pennsylvania Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Dashboard: This interactive dashboard displays HAB-related water sampling data from 2018 – present. The dashboard integrates field and laboratory data to increase public awareness of HABs and assist individuals in making decisions to prevent/minimize HAB exposures from recreational water activities. The Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Dashboard User Guide provides information on the data used to create the dashboard and delivers guidance on how to use the dashboard.

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABS) in PA training This course describes harmful algal blooms (HABs) and explores the response strategies that have been employed by agencies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The learner will discover the coordination and implementation of response activities among Commonwealth agencies to minimize the public's exposure to HABs and reduce negative impact of HABs. 

Activities related to harmful algal blooms performed by the Division of Environmental Health Epidemiology are funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Environmental Health Capacity Grant.

If you have any health-related questions about HABs, contact us at For other inquiries about HABs or to report a HAB, contact