Harmful Algal Blooms Threaten the Health of Peri-Urban Fisher Communities: A Case Study in Kisumu Bay, Lake Victoria, Kenya

Amber Roegner, Lewis Sitoki, Chelsea Weirich, Jessica Corman, Dickson Owage, Moses Umami, Ephraim Odada, Jared Miruka, Zachary Ogari, Woutrina Smith, Eliska Rejmankova, Todd R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Available guidance to mitigate health risks from exposure to freshwater harmful algal blooms (HABs) is largely derived from temperate ecosystems. Yet in tropical ecosystems, HABs can occur year-round, and resource-dependent populations face multiple routes of exposure to toxic components. Along Winam Gulf, Lake Victoria, Kenya, fisher communities rely on lake water contaminated with microcystins (MCs) from HABs. In these peri-urban communities near Kisumu, we tested hypotheses that MCs exceed exposure guidelines across seasons, and persistent HABs present a chronic risk to fisher communities through ingestion with minimal water treatment and frequent, direct contact. We tested source waters at eleven communities across dry and rainy seasons from September 2015 through May 2016. We measured MCs, other metabolites, physicochemical parameters, chlorophyll-a, phytoplankton abundance and diversity, and fecal indicators. We then selected four communities for interviews about water sources, usage, and treatment. Greater than 30% of source water samples exceeded WHO drinking water guidelines for MCs (1 µg/L), and over 60% of source water samples exceeded USEPA guidelines for children and immunocompromised individuals. 50% of households reported a sole source of raw lake water for drinking and household use, with alternate sources including rain and boreholes. Household chlorination was the most widespread treatment utilized. At this tropical, eutrophic lake, HABs pose a year-round health risk for fisher communities in resource -limited settings. Community-based solutions and site-specific guidance for Kisumu Bay and similarly impacted regions is needed to address a chronic health exposure likely to increase in severity and duration with global climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)835-848
Number of pages14
JournalExposure and Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Algal blooms
  • Cyanobacterial metabolites
  • Estimated daily intake
  • Fisherfolk
  • Lake Victoria
  • Microcystins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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