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Views and opinions: Summer sun is fun but poses cancer risks and algal worries

In the 1970s, when my dad was farming full-time, I don’t remember a lot of information about the dangers of too much sun. Maybe he knew about it. I was 14 when Dad stopped farming, but I do remember a few years later when Mom noticed Dad’s nose seemed to have a weird spot on it.

Luckily, Dad had it checked out. While it was a form of skin cancer, it wasn’t melanoma. It was treated and he was fine.

Of the many farm-related stories that pass through my computer each day, I recently saw one on the dangers of skin cancer for farmers. It is always a good idea to remember to be safe in the fields and when checking on livestock. But remember – sun can come through the windows of your vehicle. Just because you are sitting in a cab doesn’t mean you are safe from harmful rays. had an article about Jay Zielske, a Pioneer Hybrid account manager who survived Stage 4 melanoma. Zielske said many drivers are now applying sunscreen to their faces, hands and arms to prevent ultraviolet rays from harming them while driving.

Wear a broad-brimmed hat and long sleeves. If you go into any of the big sporting goods stores now, you will find racks of both shirts and pants that tout they screen out ultraviolet rays while keeping you cool (and some of them also keep bugs away).

Not all sunscreen is created equal. The Environmental Working Group has a guide to sunscreens at

The American Cancer Society also has a handy guide for telltale signs of melanoma called the ABCDEs. A is for asymmetry (if the halves of the spot don’t match), B is for border (the edges are irregular), C is for color (the color is not the same all over), D is for diameter (the spot is larger than 6 mm across) and E is for evolving (the spot is changing in size, shape or color).

Another problem brought about by the sun is blue-green algae. As a dog trainer, this is something I hear a lot about, as blue-green algae has been known to sicken or kill dogs that swim and ingest the algae.

But, it also is a concern for any livestock owner whose animals may drink out of farm ponds. It is hot summer weather with lots of sunlight that brings on the problem.

It turns out blue-green algae isn’t even an algae but is cyanobacteria, a bacteria that lives off the sun. It can be toxic to livestock, dogs and people. Blooms of cyanobacteria can build up in a pond or lake and form blooms of bacteria that look like paint on the water.

According to A.J. Tarpoff, a Kansas State University beef veterinarian, it is the paint-like texture of cyanobacteria that differentiates it from non-harmful moss in a pond.

“It can go from blue to green to almost a reddish brown or gray,” Tarpoff said. “We can have all of those color variations, but just remember that it looks a lot like paint mixing with water. That’s what it looks like floating around.”

Tarpoff was quoted in an article by Pat Melgares of K-State extension. The article goes on to say that cyanobacteria can release two types of toxins: neurotoxins, which affect an animal’s nervous system, and hepatoxins, which affect the liver function of cattle.

Farmers who suspect blue-green algae should have their water tested immediately. “These blooms can pop up pretty quickly,” Tarpoff said. “The number of cyanobacteria can double in less than 24 hours.”

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has put out a pamphlet called Dogs and Harmful Algal Blooms (HABS), but it would be useful for farmers as well in terms of what to look for in livestock ponds. To download the free pamphlet, go to

According to the pamphlet, HABs are most likely to occur after periods of warm, sunny and calm conditions during the summer and fall; when water temperatures are between 60-86 degrees; and after a large storm runoff washes nutrients into a lake or pond.

The pamphlet also warns to watch out for scum or floating mats that can wash up on shore or accumulate on the windward side of shorelines.

There are no known antidotes for the toxin, and even some dogs that receive immediate veterinary care do not recover or may have health issues for the rest of their lives. This means prevention is the best option.

If you do suspect an animal has been exposed to blue-green algae, seek immediate veterinary care and then report the toxins to your state’s natural resources agency or local health department. Common signs of HAB toxin poisoning in a dog include: vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, dark urine, abdominal swelling, stumbling, excessive salivation, disorientation and difficulty breathing.

Have fun outside – but stay safe.