algae smell toronto

Toronto is about to smell like rotting garbage

Heads up if you're thinking about planning a waterfront picnic in Toronto's west end sometime next month: Maybe don't.

Toronto Public Health announced earlier this week that a potentially toxic type of blue-green algae has been detected in Humber Bay and around Mimico creek.

Called cyanobacteria, the plant-like substance forms naturally in ponds, rivers and lakes from time to time. You can easily see blooms of it in the water, but shouldn't get close.

"Some species of blue-green algae have the potential to produce toxins that are harmful to the health of humans and animals," reads a press release from the City of Toronto, noting that exposure can cause headaches, fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes and mucous membrane irritation in humans.

"Adverse health effects are mainly caused by drinking and coming into contact with water that is contaminated with blue-green algae toxins," the public health agency says.

Fortunately, it's easy to avoid the stuff: just don't go into or drink the lake water. What can't be avoided is the smell, which can apparently get pretty gross as the algae blooms age.

TPH said on Wednesday that, while fresh blue-green algae smells like fresh-cut grass, "they may start to smell like rotting garbage" later in the summer, particularly when it's hot. 

People in other areas of North America affected by blue-green algae have called the smell "foul" and "offputting," likening it to sewage or an overflowing septic tank.

"Some of the really bad smells may come from decomposing critters, like mussels that are carried ashore tangled in the mass of vegetation," reads an explainer from Wisconson Natural Resources  Magazine. 

"These decomposing little animals can smell even worse than the algae, just as we've all observed when cleaning out a refrigerator – the smells of rotting meats and other proteins are usually stronger than the odors from decomposing fruits and vegetables."

Gross.

Lead photo by

Wikimedia Commons


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