MAYVILLE - Warm temperatures are setting the stage for blue-green algae blooms on area lakes. The Public Health Division of the Chautauqua County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) urges all residents to be cautious when recreating in our lakes, especially if algae is present. Blue-green algal blooms can be a problem because they can release a toxin, which at high levels is harmful to human and animal health if ingested.
Blue-green algae is actually a type of cyanobacteria that can form thick mats on the water surface resembling paint, and can range in color from gray to various shades of yellow, green, blue or brown. This is a problem throughout New York and many other states and proved to be quite significant on Chautauqua Lake in recent years and on our other inland lakes.
Christine Schuyler, County Director of Health & Human Services, emphasized that "the real threat to public health from cyanobacteria is when people or pets drink or otherwise ingest water directly from a lake where a bloom is occurring. Lake water that is properly treated through an approved DHHS water treatment plant does not pose a risk. Swimming or recreating in areas where the water contains high levels of toxin can cause skin irritation and other symptoms to those with high sensitivity."
Schuyler went on to explain "a significant amount of sampling and testing for microcystin, one of the most common toxins produced by cyanobacteria, has been done on Chautauqua and Findley lakes over the past three years. The only samples that have been high were those from locations where significant blooms were present and the water was very unsightly."
DHHS has developed a response plan to help protect the public from health effects caused by blue-green algal blooms when they occur. This includes closely monitoring permitted bathing beaches and public drinking water supplies, along with collecting a limited number of samples from our lakes for submission to the New York State Department of Health laboratory.
Not all algal blooms are hazardous but DHHS recommends taking the following precautions:
Avoid or limit exposure to water where these algal blooms are occurring. This especially includes swimming and other contact recreation where the water could be accidentally swallowed.
Do not allow young children or pets to play in water where an algal bloom is present.
Wash your hands and body thoroughly if exposed to algae and any time after swimming or recreating in the lake.
Do not use any water from lakes for drinking unless it has been treated through a municipal water treatment plant.
Do not enter the water if you have open cuts or sores.
If pets enter the water containing blue-green algae, wash them immediately and don't let them lick their fur.
There are no mechanical or chemical methods to eliminate a bloom. This problem can only be solved by reducing nutrients washing into the lake from the watershed, which act as fertilizer for both algae and weeds. Watershed management plans have been developed for several lakes including Chautauqua and Findley to address the nutrient problem. As recommendations in the plan are implemented, improved water quality will follow, but it will take years to see improvements.
For more information about blue-green algae, please go to the DHHS website at myhealthycounty.com. The website also contains information about bathing beach closures for public beaches in Chautauqua County.