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Foam, oil, and paint: EGLE gets complaints about look-alike natural substances in lakes, rivers

With warmer weather here, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) hears from Michiganders about all kinds of suspicious-looking situations that turn out to be naturally occurring phenomena. Algae that look like paint, for example. Or bacteria that mimic an oil sheen.

pollen on large lake

Pollen on large lake in Michigan.


Complaints include what people think are paint, oil and foam, says Ryan Blazic, Water Resources Outreach Specialist in EGLE’s Water Resources Division. “In reality, what people are seeing in some cases are different types of naturally occurring phenomena that they have encountered on Michigan waters,” he said.

To help people determine if what they’re looking at is pollution, EGLE has a webpage devoted to naturally occurring phenomena.

Information there covers algae, bacteria, bryozoans (also called moss animals), foam, pollen and whiting.

People who think they spot pollution are encouraged to call EGLE’s district offices directly during daytime hours.

Environmental emergencies may be reported to the 24-hour Pollution Emergency Alert System (PEAS) Hotline at 800-292-4706.