In recent years, the international demand for commodities has prompted enormous growth in agriculture in most South American countries. Due to intensive use of fertilizers, cyanobacterial blooms have become a recurrent phenomenon throughout the continent, but their potential health risk remains largely unknown due to the lack of analytical capacity. In this paper we report the main results and conclusions of more than five years of systematic monitoring of cyanobacterial blooms in 20 beaches of Montevideo, Uruguay, on the Rio de la Plata, the fifth largest basin in the world. A locally developed microcystin ELISA was used to establish a sustainable monitoring program that revealed seasonal peaks of extremely high toxicity, more than one-thousand-fold greater than the WHO limit for recreational water. Comparison with cyanobacterial cell counts and chlorophyll-a determination, two commonly used parameters for indirect estimation of toxicity, showed that such indicators can be highly misleading. On the other hand, the accumulated experience led to the definition of a simple criterion for visual classification of blooms, that can be used by trained lifeguards and technicians to take rapid on-site decisions on beach management. The simple and low cost approach is broadly applicable to risk assessment and risk management in developing countries.
- Harmful algal blooms
- South America
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Engineering
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law