MAYVILLE, N.Y.: – The Public Health Division of the Chautauqua County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) urges all residents and visitors to be cautious when recreating in our lakes, especially if Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are present. HABs are created when blue-green algae release toxins which can be harmful to human and animal health. Currently a blue-green algae bloom is widespread throughout the South Basin of Chautauqua Lake.
Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are naturally present in lakes. Nutrient rich runoff from surrounding land, warm water temperature, and sunshine encourages blue-green algae growth. Under the right conditions, blue-green algae form floating mats which may resemble “pea soup” or have a paint-like appearance with strong colors including blue-green, green, yellow, white, brown, purple, or red. These blooms are more likely in nearshore areas than open water areas and are known to contain higher toxin levels than those in open water.
People and pets can be exposed to toxins by contact (touching, swallowing, and inhaling) with HABs during water recreation activities, through surface water use around the house, such as watering gardens, and through drinking water.
Christine Schuyler, County Director of Health & Human Services, stated that, "the greatest threat to public health from HABs is when people or pets drink or otherwise ingest water directly from a lake where a bloom is occurring. Lake water that is properly treated through an approved DHHS water treatment plant does not pose a risk. Swimming or recreating in areas where the water contains high levels of toxin can cause skin irritation and other symptoms to those with high sensitivity."
Schuyler emphasized, “Not all blooms are hazardous but the public should use common sense and take the following precautions to protect themselves:
- When swimming, wading, or boating, avoid areas with blooms or surface scums, or water that is noticeably discolored.
- Do not allow young children or pets to play in water where an algal bloom is present.
- Don’t fish or eat fish caught from areas with blooms or surface scums, or water that is noticeably discolored.
- Pay attention to beach closures, advisory signs, press releases, and websites. Never swim at beaches that have been closed.
- Never drink, prepare food, cook, or make ice with untreated surface water, bloom or no bloom.”
If people or pets are accidentally exposed to a bloom use clean water to rinse off as soon as possible. Consider medical attention if symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, skin irritation, allergic reactions or breathing difficulties occur after exposure to surface waters with active blooms.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Department of Health investigate HABs reports, sample blooms for toxins, and conduct research to learn more about HABs and toxin production.
The Chautauqua County Health Department monitors permitted bathing beaches for HABs and the indicator bacteria E. coli. To best protect the public from possible disease exposure, beaches are closed when the water exceeds bacteria safety standards and/or HABs are spotted. The status of Chautauqua County permitted public beaches and additional information about HABs are listed on the County Website at www.co.chautauqua.ny.us/246/Beach-Closings .
New York State and Chautauqua County have active programs to reduce the amount of nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen, entering streams and lakes. A watershed management plan has been developed for Chautauqua Lake and as recommendations in the plan are implemented, improved water quality will follow, but it may take years to see improvements.