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Blue-Green Algae

 

 

Some types of algae can produce toxins that can be harmful to people and animals. Algal blooms that produce toxins are known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Environmental conditions that contribute to the formation of HABs in bodies of water include excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), abundant sunlight, calm water conditions, and warmer temperatures.

This summer, HABs have been identified in many New York State lakes including the recent findings on Skaneateles Lake. Skaneateles Lake is an unfiltered source of public drinking water for the Town and Village of Skaneateles, Town and Village of Elbridge, Village of Jordan, City of Syracuse and portions of the Towns of Onondaga and DeWitt.

 

   
Water Sample Test Results

Know It
Surface water that is discolored with a paint-like or filmy appearance or floating scum should always be avoided as they are potentially harmful. Images of these types of blooms as well as non-harmful blooms can be viewed by clicking here.
Weather influences where harmful algae blooms will occur. During extended periods of calm and sunny days, blooms can accumulate at the surface in any location. Wind and waves may cause them to form along shorelines or in protected areas. Shifts in wind direction can move a bloom from one location to another. Periods of cool rainy weather can often lead to the disappearance of a bloom HABsinfo@dec.ny.gov.

Avoid It
Always stay away from blooms in surface waters. Never swim, fish, boat, wade or eat fish caught in areas with blooms. Bloom or no bloom, never drink, prepare food, cook, or make ice with untreated or improperly treated individual surface water supplies. During a bloom, individual surface water supplies should not be used for showering, bathing, or washing dishes even if treatment is provided. Public water supplies that draw water from surface water are treated, disinfected and monitored. The public would be notified if public water supplies are impacted by algal blooms.

Report It
If you think that a bloom may be harmful and is present on Skaneateles Lake, the Onondaga County Health Department asks that you report it to the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Inspection Program at (315) 685-6486. If the bloom is present on another water body in Onondaga County, please report it to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) at HABsinfo@dec.ny.gov.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

How is the public drinking water being monitored?

  • The City of Syracuse, the Onondaga County Health Department and the New York State Department of Health are monitoring the public drinking water for the presence of toxins associated with harmful algal blooms. Samples of the public drinking water are collected and sent to the New York State Department of Health laboratory on a regular basis during the harmful algal bloom season to determine if toxins are present.

If toxins associated with harmful algal blooms are in the public drinking water, is the water safe to drink?

  • The Onondaga County Health Department will notify the public when alternative water should be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth and preparing food.
  • The Onondaga County Health Department in consultation with the New York State Department of Health will issue necessary advisories for drinking water when levels exceed normal limits.

What could the effects on my health be if I drink public drinking water with toxins associated with harmful algal blooms above the levels set by the EPA?

  • Symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, skin, eye or throat irritation, allergic reactions or breathing difficulties may occur after drinking water with elevated levels of toxins associated with harmful algal blooms. These symptoms are very similar to symptoms from other gastrointestinal illnesses or allergic reactions. Stop drinking the water and seek medical attention if you or a family member experience these symptoms.
  • Gastroenteritis which may include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, and liver and kidney damage have been reported in humans following short-term exposure to toxins associated with harmful algal blooms in drinking water. However, more research is needed to fully understand the health effects.

I’m pregnant (or planning to be). Will consuming the public drinking water toxins effect my unborn child?

  • There is limited information available in the scientific literature on the potential for health effects from ingesting microcystin, the primary toxin associated with Harmful Algal Blooms, during pregnancy.
  • The Onondaga County Health Department in consultation with the New York State Department of Health will advise pregnant women not to drink the water if levels exceed normal limits.

If I live near a lake experiencing a harmful algal bloom, is my private well water safe to drink, bathe, wash dishes, etc.?

  • If a private well is a properly installed drilled well, it is unlikely to be impacted by Harmful Algal Blooms present in the lake. If the well is a shallow well installed along the shore of a lake experiencing a harmful algal bloom, toxins associated with the bloom may be present in the well water. In-home treatments such as boiling, disinfecting water with chlorine or ultraviolet (UV), and water filtration units do not remove the toxins associated with harmful algal blooms. There are treatment units on the market that have been shown to reduce microcystin levels in water, but it is not known if the microcystins would be reduced to a level considered safe. Since individual water supplies are not regulated or monitored, it is not known if there is a health risk to drinking the water from your private well.

If I draw my water directly from the lake experiencing a bloom, is my water safe to drink, wash dishes, etc.?

  • Never drink untreated surface water, whether or not harmful algal blooms are present. At this time, even if the water is treated by in-home treatment units, DO NOT DRINK water drawn directly from the lake and DO NOT USE the water for making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth, preparing food, and washing dishes when blooms are present. In-home treatments such as boiling, ultraviolet radiation (UV), and water filtration units do not remove the toxins associated with harmful algal blooms. There are treatment units on the market that have been shown to reduce microcystin levels in water, but it is not known if the microcystins would be reduced to a level considered safe. Since individual water supplies are not regulated or monitored, it is not known if there is a health risk to drinking the water from your private water supply.
  • The Onondaga County Health Department in consultation with the New York State Department of Health will advise those drawing water directly from Skaneateles Lake when testing shows undetectable levels of toxin in the Lake.

Can my children and pets play in the lake water if it is experiencing a harmful algal bloom?

  • People, pets, and livestock should avoid contact with water that is discolored or has floating scum on the surface. If contact does occur, rinse the exposed skin thoroughly with clean water.
  • Exposure to harmful algal blooms can be deadly for pets, especially if they drink water with harmful algal blooms or when they lick their fur after swimming in waters with harmful algal blooms.

What health effects can I expect to see if I was recreating in lake water experiencing a bloom?

  • Recreational exposures can occur while swimming, wading, fishing, or boating in areas with harmful algal blooms if this water is touched or swallowed, or when airborne droplets are inhaled. Exposure to harmful algal blooms can cause diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting; skin, eye, or throat irritation; and allergic reactions or breathing difficulties. Seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms after exposure to harmful algal blooms.

Have any health problems been reported by people after recreating in water bodies experiencing harmful algal blooms?

  • According to the New York State Department of Health, generally there have been infrequent reports of illnesses associated with recreational exposure to harmful algal blooms, and most of illnesses reported were minor. Since the symptoms from harmful algal bloom exposure are very similar to symptoms from other gastrointestinal illnesses or allergic reactions, we expect that bloom-related illnesses are under-reported.

What health effects may my pet experience if they were exposed to harmful algal blooms?

  • Symptoms for animals include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, excessive salivation or drooling, stumbling, seizures, convulsions, paralysis, disorientation, inactivity, excessive tiredness, fast heart rate and difficulty breathing. Seek veterinary care if your pet experiences these symptoms after exposure to harmful algal blooms.

What do harmful algal blooms look like? How will I be able to identify these blooms if I am on the lake?

  • Discolored water, often with a paint-like appearance, with or without floating scum or mats may be evidence of a Harmful Algal Bloom. Pictures of Harmful Algal Blooms can be found here: www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/81962.html
  • It is hard to tell a Harmful Algal Bloom from other non-harmful algae blooms. Therefore the Onondaga County Health Department recommends that you avoid wading, swimming, boating, and fishing in waterbodies that are discolored or has scum or floating mats present.

What should I do if I see a Harmful Algal Bloom on a body of water?

  • If you think that a bloom may be harmful and is present on Skaneateles Lake, the Onondaga County Health Department asks that you report it to the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Inspection Program at (315) 685-6486. If the bloom is present on another water body in Onondaga County, please report it to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) at HABsinfo@dec.ny.gov.

 

Learn More:

Frequently Asked Questions -NYSDOH

Blue-green Algae and Health – NYSDOH

Blue-green Algae - Beach Operator Fact Sheet

Harmful Algal Bloom Notifications Page - NYSDEC  

Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water - USEPA

Harmful Algal Blooms Photo Gallery - NYSDEC

Harmful Algal Blooms -USEPA

Health Information – USEPA

Harmful algal bloom toxins key questions and answers - USEPA  

Monitoring and Responding to Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins in Recreational Waters - USEPA

Recommendations for Public Water Systems to Manage Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water - USEPA

 

 

 

 

 

     
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