The mission of the Virginia HAB Task Force is to conduct monitoring and surveillance for HAB species, to respond to and investigate HAB events, utilize scientifically relevant information to advise public health and environmental resource managers, and to communicate potential health risks to the public. These efforts are intended to prevent human exposure to HAB organisms and their toxins which may be present in Virginia marine and fresh waterbodies.
The Virginia Department of Health works in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Old Dominion University, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, to monitor Virginia’s waters for harmful algae and to prevent illness that may be caused by these organisms. This group is collectively known as the Virginia HAB Task Force and was formed in 1997. These primary support members coordinate to conduct surveillance in shellfish growing areas, estuaries, as well as coastal beaches and inland freshwater lakes and rivers. This group communicates routinely with a large group of secondary support members throughout the state to facilitate awareness, discussions, and to share research findings in order to protect human health.
Algal blooms annually occur throughout Virginia’s lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal zones including those that may affect human and environmental health through toxin production or other impacts.
Cyanobacteria blooms of toxin producing Microcystis, Planktothrix and Anabaena species have occurred on an annual basis in freshwater lakes and ponds in recent years. Tiered thresholds including cell densities and microcystin concentrations have been developed for advisory guidance of recreational waters within the state.
Coastal estuarine waters, including shellfish growing areas are monitored for potentially toxic phytoplankton species as part of the state’s biotoxin contingency plan. While biotoxins have not been found to impact shellfish within the state, blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia and Dinophysis species have occurred in Chesapeake Bay and Virginia coastal bays in recent years, and are monitored closely by the Division of Shellfish Sanitation, including densities and toxin concentrations. In addition, annually recurring blooms of Cochlodinium polykrikoides and Alexandrium monilatum appear to be increasing in extent throughout the region. Ongoing efforts to evaluate the impact of these species and others to natural resources and potential human health include bioassays and toxin characterizations, as well as expanded ambient monitoring throughout the region.
The Task Force updated the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Harmful Algal Bloom Response Plan in 2017. The document outlines the roles and responsibilities of Task Force primary support members during HAB investigations, which includes communication and distribution of information to the public.
The HAB Task Force Primary Support Member Charter outlines the supporting agencies’ commitment to the group’s efforts.
Task Force Operational Plans detail the planned activities of primary support member groups for the year.
Secondary support members are partners important to the success of the Task Force mission.
For questions about the HAB Task Force, please contact the VDH Division of Environmental Epidemiology at 804-864-8182.