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- Blue-Green Algae Can Turn Up in Area Lakes Unexpectedly; People Urged to be Watchful and Know What to Do If They Detect It -

If you’re in or on the water this summer, be on the lookout for microscopic organisms that can make a splash for all the wrong reasons.

Blue-green algae (BGA) has surfaced in some area lakes over the past few summers, posing potential health problems for anyone who swims, drinks or uses the water. That is why this year, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is again urging residents, cottagers and visitors who use local lakes and waterways to be on the lookout for BGA and to take precautions if they spot it.

“Blue-green algae can form on local lakes, especially when conditions are right for it,” says Richard Ovcharovich, Manager of Environmental Health with the HKPR District Health Unit. “If you detect serious signs of blue-green algae in a lake or local waterway, avoid using the water. Any exposure to the water, be it drinking, swimming, bathing, cooking or washing, can lead to health problems.”

Consuming water with blue-green algae can result in headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. According to Ovcharovich, boiling the water won’t help either, as this kills the blue-green algae resulting in the release of more toxins into the water.

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. “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.

The Health Unit wants to raise awareness about the blue-green algae problem by helping people spot it, determine its severity and identify what actions to take to deal with it. Information on how to identify different categories of BGA is available at any local Health Unit office or by clicking here.

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

Category 1: Water appears cloudy, but you can still see through it. There is no health effect expected at this stage, although swimming is discouraged, especially if you cannot see into the water.

Category 2: Water colour changes in appearance, and algae may appear in clusters or flakes in the water (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 blue-green algae that falls into either category 2 or 3, 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. Unaffected areas of the lake can be used as usual, and recreational water activities can resume 24 hours after the bloom has disappeared.

“People who draw water from lakes or slow-moving rivers where there are frequent BGA blooms may want to find 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,” Ovcharovich suggests.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Christopher Beveridge, Director, Environmental Health, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, (905) 885-9100.

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