Recently, we at The Freeman’s Journal have become aware that some of our readers, and others who may not be our readers, still have questions about the toxic algae blooms that of late have been creeping up on us from the depths and edges of our beloved Otsego Lake. So here goes an effort to get it right.
According to NOAA, whose satellites, along with those of the EPA, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, are picking up images of them, these blooms have been found in 2,300 lakes in the contiguous U.S., and in another 5,000 bodies of water in Alaska.
The algae, often — but not strictly — of a blue-green color, is cyanobacteria, which grows naturally in fresh water, though it also also been spotted, although less frequently, in brackish and salt water. The bacteria can also be red, neon or brown, and when it dies it exudes a rotten smell. When the water is warm, stagnant and nutrient-rich, as it presently is here, the algae can burst into blooms, which is what we are seeing along the shores of the Lake. The blooms can, and do, produce a toxin, called cyanotoxin, which can enter the mouth, nose and eyes, or be inhaled with water vapor. They can also keep blooming into the early fall, until the temperature drops.
The toxin can be extremely poisonous, and often deadly, to pets, and annoyingly harmful to humans. There are as yet no antidotes or treatments for humans or pets that have picked up the cyanotoxins, nor has the toxin been well studied. For humans, there is evidence of nausea, rashes and itching, gastrointestinal upset, respiratory issues and, interestingly, a low birth rate in babies born to toxin-exposed mothers. Symptoms usually last from one day to a week; some, of course, may be sick for months.
For dogs, the toxin often causes vomiting, diarrhea and breathing difficulties as well as seizures and death. There is also evidence, in parts of the country but so far not here, of water contamination where the algae blooms appear near drinking-water intakes.
There is mounting evidence that these algae blooms are not going away gracefully. Global climate change, watershed degradation and increased nutrient loading are supporting and broadening the base for the algae and contributing to its frequency and incipient severity. There is, as yet, no solution.
We suggest that you who love our Lake stay away from foam, scum and colorful streaks that may be lurking on the shoreline. Keep your dogs away too, from that foam and scum, and any dead fish they may choose to roll in, and rinse them off quickly with fresh water if they stray into the algae. Lastly, pay keen attention to the work of the Biological Field Station which, with a most welcome and profoundly appreciated grant from Jane Clark and her Fernleigh Foundation is monitoring a number of sites around the Lake twice a week and releasing their findings to the surrounding towns as well as to their website.
Thank you; stay safe.