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Health Unit Advises Lakefront Property Owners and Beach Goers to be on the Lookout for Algal Blooms

SIMCOE, AUGUST 9, 2014– After being notified of a potential algal bloom on Lake Erie in the Selkirk area, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is reminding the public to be aware of the risks of cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae.

Certain species of cyanobacteria can release harmful toxins when their cells rupture or die.  If ingested in large enough quantities while swimming, drinking or eating fish contaminated with elevated levels of toxins, people may experience headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and/or vomiting.  “Swimming in elevated levels alone can make people feel itchy, irritate their eyes and produce hay-fever like symptoms” explains Kris Lutzi, Sr. Public Health Inspector for the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.  The Health Unit recommends that people who think they may have come into contact with these toxins and are experiencing any of these symptoms consult a healthcare provider. Swimmers are also advised to immediately rinse off their body if they think they have come into contact with contaminated algae.

“While there has been much attention regarding blue-green algae in Lake Erie around the Toledo area and surrounding southwest corner of Lake Erie, currents, wind and favourable conditions can bring about algal blooms in our area” notes Lutzi, “We will continue to monitor the situation but it is important that people drawing their drinking water directly from the lake and beach goers be aware of the signs of an algal bloom so that they can take certain precautions” adds Lutzi.

Cyanobacteria form in shallow, warm, slow-moving or still water.  Bloom colours include shades of green, blue-green, yellow, brown or red.  These blooms can be more frequent in August and the fall as the algae dies off.

“Surface and drinking water looking like ‘pea soup’ and/or smelling bad should be avoided” notes Lutzi.  Unfortunately, boiling water contaminated with cyanobacteria will not remove the toxins so an alternative source of drinking water should be sought if you suspect contamination.  Pets and livestock are also prone to the toxins so owners should take precautions to ensure their safety.

Persons suspecting a blue-green algae bloom are advised to contact the Ministry of Environment’s Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060.

Media contact:

Kris Lutzi, BHS, BASc, CPHI (C)
Sr. Public Health Inspector, Environmental Health Team
12 Gilbertson Dr., Simcoe, ON N3Y 4L1
Phone: 519-426-6170 ext. 3261
Fax:  519-426-9974
E-mail:  [email protected]