MAYVILLE - As the boating and swimming season ends in Chautauqua County, the Health Department reminds everyone to be cautious of continued blue-green algae in area waters. These algae, technically known as cyanobacteria, are microscopic organisms that are naturally present in lakes and streams. They usually are present in low numbers but blue-green algae can become very abundant in warm, shallow, undisturbed surface water that receives a lot of sunlight. When this occurs, they can form blooms that discolor the water or produce floating rafts or scum on the surface of the water. These blooms may appear thick like pea soup, like green paint, or like grass clippings on the water.
"We're hopeful that cooler temperatures will bring an end to the significant blue-green algal blooms that we've seen this year," said Christine Schuyler, County Public Health Director. "The real threat to public health from cyanobacteria is when people or pets drink or ingest water directly from a lake or pond where a bloom is occurring. Although our swimming season has come to an end, many people such as boaters, fishermen, and dock maintenance personnel - as well as our pets - may still frequent our lake waters and need to avoid direct contact with the algal blooms," added Schuyler.
Consuming water containing high levels of blue-green algal toxins has been associated with effects on the liver and on the nervous system in laboratory animals, pets, livestock and people. Contact such as swimming or showering with water that contains high levels of toxin should also be avoided as it can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat and inflammation in the respiratory tract and could accidently be ingested.
People should suspect that blue-green algae could be present in water that is visibly discolored or that has surface scum. Colors can include shades of green, blue-green, yellow, brown or red. Water affected by blue-green algal blooms often is so strongly colored that it can develop a paint-like appearance. Unpleasant tastes or odors are not reliable indicators of blue-green algal toxins or other toxic substances, because species producing blue-green algal toxins may or may not also produce chemicals that affect the taste or odor of drinking water. Similarly, the absence of unpleasant tastes and odors does not guarantee the absence of blue-green algal toxins.
To prevent health related problems associated with cyanobacteria algal blooms, health officials recommend taking the following precautions:
Do not drink any water unless it has been properly treated or is from a known safe source.
Avoid or limit exposure to water where these algal blooms are occurring. This especially includes contact 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 algal blooms and anytime after swimming or recreating in the lake.
Thoroughly rinse off pets and remove clumps of fur that may be matted with algae if pets come in contact with algal blooms.
For more information from the Health Department about blue-green algae visit www.health.ny.gov or call the Chautauqua County Health Department at 1-866-604-6789.