New Online Tool Tells if Lakes Have Toxic Algae

Now that summer is in full swing,, so is toxic blue-green algae in lakes.

The tainted water can make children and adults sick, and even kill pets and livestock.

This year the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) freshwater algae control program offers an online, searchable database that allows people to find out which lakes have had outbreaks of toxic algae. The tool helps local health agencies and the public keep up to date with the latest testing information.

"Local health departments and lake residents are out there testing lakes, and we are collecting a lot of data. We decided to put all of the results in one location so everybody could see them," said Ecology's lakes expert, Kathy Hamel. "Now everybody can get up-close and personal information about local lakes to keep their families and pets safe."

Although a natural phenomenon, toxic blue-green algae blooms can cause people who are exposed to tainted water to have stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes, and possibly even nerve and liver damage.

In 2006, two dogs died and another was sickened after swimming in a toxic algae bloom in Jefferson County's Anderson Lake, which is currently experiencing a toxic bloom.

Currently, five Pierce County lakes – Wapato, Waughop, Bay, Harts and Palmer -- have toxic blue-green algae outbreaks and health officials have issued public advisories.

Algae blooms can be fed by nutrient overloading of water bodies. People can help keep nutrients out of the water by picking up dog waste, maintaining septic tanks, reducing use of fertilizers, and planting vegetation along shorelines to decrease polluted stormwater runoff.

"The problem is not going away, and in fact, it is worsening as our population grows," Hamel said.

Most types of algae are harmless, some are considered nuisances, and others are important to lake productivity. Blue-green algae blooms happen mostly in the summer or fall, but they can occur anytime. Blue-green blooms may float to the surface and can be several inches thick near the shoreline. A blue-green algae bloom often looks like green paint in the water or floating on the surface.

People should avoid contact with suspect algae blooms and should shower or bathe after contact with lake water. Contact your county health department if you suspect a blue-green algae bloom.

The state's toxic algae database is at: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/toxicalgae/InternetDefault.aspx

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