MAYVILLE - Toxins from blue-green algae can affect the liver and nervous system in animals and people.
On Wednesday, the county Health Department issued a news release about the closing of four public swimming beaches because of blue-green algae. Since July 30, Health Department officials have shut down swimming at Lakewood Village Beach at Richard O. Hartley Park, the beach at Lakeside Park in Mayville and Chautauqua Institution's Children's beach and Pier beach at the College Club. Lakewood Village Beach has been reopened, but the other three remain closed.
''This year's mild winter and hot summer likely caused more lakes and ponds to experience the blooms, and earlier in the season than usual,'' said Christine Schuyler, county public health director. ''The real threat to public health from cyanobacteria is when people or pets drink or ingest water directly from a lake or pond where a bloom is occurring. Consuming water containing high levels of blue-green algal toxins has been associated with effects on the liver and on the nervous system in laboratory animals, pets, livestock and people."
Blue-green algae in Chautauqua Lake, which has closed down four public swimming beaches in the last few weeks.
"Contact such as swimming or showering with water that contains high levels of toxin should also be avoided as it can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat and inflammation in the respiratory tract and could accidentally be ingested," Schuyler added.
The county Health Department monitors swimming beaches for blue-green algae blooms. The algae, known also as cyanobacteria, are microscopic organisms that are naturally present in lakes and streams. It is usually present in low numbers, but blue-green algae can become abundant in warm, shallow and undisturbed surface water that receives a lot of sunlight.
People should suspect that blue-green algae could be present in water that is visibly discolored or that has surface scum. Colors can include shades of green, blue-green, yellow, brown or red. Water affected by blue-green algal blooms often is so strongly colored it can develop a paint-like appearance. Unpleasant tastes or odors are not reliable indicators of blue-green algal toxins or other toxic substances, because species producing blue-green algal toxins may or may not also produce chemicals that affect the taste or odor of drinking water. Similarly, the absence of unpleasant tastes and odors does not guarantee the absence of blue-green algal toxins.
To prevent health related problems associated with cyanobacteria algal blooms, health officials recommend taking the following precautions:
Do not drink any water unless it has been properly treated or is from a known safe source.
Avoid or limit exposure to water where algal blooms are occurring. This especially includes swimming and other contact recreation where the water could be accidentally swallowed.
Do not allow young children or pets to play in water where an algal bloom is present.
Wash your hands and body thoroughly if exposed to algal blooms and anytime after swimming or recreating in the lake.
For more information from the Health Department about blue-green algae, visit www.myhealthycounty.com or call 866-604-6789. For more information on beach closings in the county, visit www.co.chautauqua.ny.us/departments/health/pages/beachmonitoring.aspx.