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Algae problem grows

Harmful organism found in local lake

Dan Lyon/multimedia intern

Dean Pond in Marathon is one of 45 bodies of water in New York state determined to have blue-green algae growth by the Department of Environmental Conservation. These blooms are considered Harmful Algal Blooms and can be toxic to humans and animals.

It’s a microscopic organism, but under the right conditions it can have potentially harmful health effects.

At least one lake in Cortland County has been identified to be a carrier. Others in driving distance of Cortland have also been identified as having the microbe.

It’s blue-green algae.

On July 10, the state Department of Environmental Conservation added Dean Pond in Marathon to a list of 44 other lakes and ponds that are known carriers of the bacteria-like organism.

The DEC reports that the extent of the algae in Dean Pond is widespread. It is labeled as confirmed, which means watersampling results show the presence of a harmful algae bloom that may produce toxins or other harmful compounds.

Other lakes and ponds in the area affected by the algae include Cayuga Lake and Cazenovia Lake.

Some blue-green algae can produce toxins, according to the state Department of Health.

“It depends on what type of species,” said Mike Ryan, director of Environmental Health in Cortland County. “There are some that produce toxins and some don’t.”

In people the general side-effects of contact with the algae include diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; skin, eye or throat irritation; and allergic reactions or breathing difficulties, according to the state Department of Health.

Not only are people affected by the harmful algae blooms, but animals as well.

Karyn Bischoff, a toxicologist at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, said prevention is the best protection for animals. “Do everything you can to stop them from accessing contaminated water,” she said in a written statement.

The most severe effects of harmful algae blooms, including blue-green algae, on animals are from ingestion, which can occur through drinking contaminated water or from grooming it off their coats, Bischoff said. “If your livestock or pet touches contaminated water, even a small amount, immediately rinse thoroughly with fresh water,” she wrote. “Doing this quickly can be lifesaving. After rinsing the animal well, contact your veterinarian immediately. Time is of the essence in these cases.”

Blue-green algae are microscopic organisms that are naturally present in lakes and streams, according to the state Department of Health.

So far in Cortland County there have been no confirmed illnesses in people or animals from the algae, Ryan said.

Harmful algae blooms are most likely to occur in warmer weather, though they have been observed in the state from April through December, according to the DEC. Blooms are most common in late August and September when water temperatures are warmest.

It might be a harmful bluegreen algae bloom if the water is blue-green, green, yellow, white, brown, purple, or red; has a paint-like appearance; or if there is scum on the water surface.

For the fifth year now, the state will host a symposium on harmful algae blooms on Aug. 9 at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva.

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