Research finds algae-linked toxin in water

MILWAUKEE – An environmental toxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has been found in blue-green algae-contaminated water throughout North America and the world.

The international team of researchers that reported the finding this week suggested public health officials now should consider monitoring for the neurotoxin in waters that have blue-green algae “blooms,” including water from the Great Lakes and smaller inland waters. The neurotoxin is called B-N-methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA.

“We don’t want to be alarmist. This is very preliminary research,” said Paul Allen Cox, lead researcher on the paper and director of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a research institute in Hawaii.

“But gosh, if there is a neurotoxin out there” it might be prudent to check it out, he said.

The research appears in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other researchers agree the work is interesting and warrants further investigation. But they, too, caution it is only suggestive and no link between blue-green algae and common neurodegenerative diseases has yet been established.

“This is certainly very interesting science, and we’re keeping an eye on it,” said William Thies, vice president for medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer’s Association. “However, its relevance to Alzheimer’s disease has yet to be proven.”

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