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GET TO KNOW ITS TRUE COLOURS

- Season For Blue-Green Algae Arrives, Bringing Reminder to Beware – and Be Aware - of Potential Risks to Public Health -

People who swim, drink and use water from area lakes are being reminded to be on the lookout for blue-green algae (BGA), and to change their habits accordingly if they detect it.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is encouraging residents, cottagers and visitors who use area lakes and waterways to educate themselves about BGA to reduce their potential health risk. In the past few summers, BGA has surfaced in local lakes, particularly in shallow, still water and during extremely warm temperatures.

“Reports of blue-green algae in our region have been more common in the summer months, so it is important to beware of the risks associated with BGA and be aware of what to look for in the water,” says Richard Ovcharovich, Manager of Environmental Health with the HKPR District Health Unit.

BGA, also known as cyanobacteria, are primitive microscopic organisms that occur naturally in lakes, bays and inlets around the world. Normally, the algae are barely visible, but during warm weather the algae can rapidly increase in shallow, still waters to form a large mass called a bloom. Dense blue-green algae blooms can make the water look like a bluish-green pea soup, or a shiny paint slick. Most algae blooms are short-lived and will break down in a few days or weeks.

While many forms of blue-green algae are harmless, some forms produce toxins that can be harmful to humans and animals. This means that any exposure to the water, be it drinking, swimming, bathing, cooking or washing, can lead to health problems. The extent of how sick people can get depends on the type of BGA and how long they are exposed to the toxins, Ovcharovich says.

“If you see or detect serious signs of blue-green algae in a lake or local waterway, avoid using the water at all costs,” he says. “Boiling the water won’t help either, as this kills the algae resulting in the release of more toxins into the water.”

The Health Unit is helping raise awareness about BGA through an information campaign called Blue-Green Algae: Get to Know Its True Colours. The goal is to help people who use area lakes recognize BGA and take appropriate precautions.=

In general, blue-green algae can be put into three categories:

Category 1: Water appears cloudy, but you can still see through it. There is no health effect expected at this stage.

Category 2: Water colour changes in appearance, and algae may be in clusters or flakes in the water or appear like a pea puree.

Category 3: This is a dense bloom, resembling a paint spill or forming a scum on the water. The algae is easily swept by the wind and deposited near the shore.

For both category 2 and 3 blue-green algae, people are advised to avoid swimming or using water for drinking, cooking, rinsing foods or washing dishes. Pets should also be prevented from entering or drinking the water. Consuming water with blue-green algae can result in headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Unaffected areas of the lake can be used as usual, and recreational water activities can resume 24 hours after the bloom has disappeared.

“If people are drawing their water from lakes or slow-moving rivers where there are frequent blooms, they may want to consider using an alternate water source such as a drilled well, a dug well far from shore or a water holding tank filled with water from a licensed water treatment plant,” says Ovcharovich.

To learn more about blue-green algae, call the Health Unit or visit www.hkpr.on.ca.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Richard Ovcharovich, Manager, Environmental Health, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, (705) 324-3569.

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