Cyanotoxins In Aerosol

Are harmful cyanobacterial blooms affecting the air we breathe?

Several studies have investigated the health effects associated with cyanotoxin contamination in drinking water or food supplies, but less research has been conducted to assess the transport and fate of cyanotoxins in the air.

As air bubbles burst at the water-air interface via breaking waves or wind stress, droplets are ejected into the air, generating biogenic spray aerosols potentially enriched with cyanobacterial cells and their toxins.

(Plaas & Paerl, 2020 in ES&T)

We are exploring the aerosolization of toxins and cyanobacterial cells across the US, with ongoing projects on the Chowan River, North Carolina, western Lake Erie, Ohio, and in the Bay Delta – San Joaquin River, California.

In a preliminary study on the Chowan River, led by UNC-CH Public Health PhD student Haley Plaas (advised by Hans W. Paerl), the objectives were to:

  1. Quantify microcystin, a liver toxin produced by cyanobacteria, and cyanobacterial DNA in water and spray aerosol of the Chowan River.
  2. Model the environmental conditions which promote the suspension of harmful cyanobacterial compounds in aerosol.

Read more about the aerosolization of harmful cyanobacteria here:

For more information on this study, please contact Dr. Hans Paerl at and PhD student Haley Plaas at Dr. H. Paerl is a Distinguished Professor at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, with a dual appointment in Environmental Sciences and Engineering. Haley is a PhD student of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, advised by Dr. H. Paerl.