Ahhhh, Summer at the Lake. But Is it Safe to Swim?

August 3, 2022

"Cyanobacteria is toxic. It can harm your family. Every year we hear about pets going into the water and suffering the consequences"

Dr. Gad Weiss

You’ve got the cooler filled with soft drinks, the canvas tote stuffed with towels. The kids are in hyper mode, ready to get there, and the dog just wants you to throw the ball, already. Summertime at the lake is a welcome respite, as long as you can just. get. there. 

Sunscreen, check. Beach chairs, check. Will this traffic ever let up?! Maybe you forgot something…

Do you know what’s in the water your kids will soon be splashing into?

Microscopic organisms known as cyanobacteria love these warm summer months just as much as the kids do. As the water temp heats up, cyanobacteria start multiplying. And when you add in runoff, pollutants, and excess nutrients, these bacteria can explode in numbers, forcing out the lake’s “good” organisms. And when the good guys are gone, a mighty army of cyanotoxins can rise rapidly to the surface, often creating blooms of brown or green muck. They simply take over. It isn’t pretty. And the smell? Oh so bad.

Dr. Gad Weiss has spent years sniffing out harmful algal blooms. Even the faintest whiff raises his antenna. On a recent summer day at Virginia’s Lake Anna, Dr. Weiss checked the wind, studied the lake’s surface for current movement, and dipped his pH analyzer into the brown waters of the lake’s Pamunkey Branch. The air was still and hot, summer just starting to sizzle.

“We have to understand the lake, what is the chemistry, what are the conditions. Water is a dynamic, rapidly changing environment,” said Weiss. 

Weiss and the rest of the team from BlueGreen Water Technologies were overseeing the deployment of the company’s unique, polymer-coated, floating algaecide. 

“This treatment will knock down the cyanobacteria and give time for the beneficial algae to rise up and take their place. It will restore the balance of the ecosystem and bring the lake back to where it should be.” 

Water that doesn’t get treated only gets worse. Cyanobacterial blooms produce harmful toxins that can sicken people, contaminate seafood and drinking water supplies, kill fish and other wildlife, and can be fatal to pets. 

“Cyanobacteria is toxic. It’s going to harm you, it’s going to harm your family. Every year in the states we hear about pets going into the water and suffering the consequences,” said Weiss. “These blooms tend to repeat themselves year after year, driving down property values and hurting businesses and livelihoods.”

The tricky thing is, you can be exposed to cyanotoxins even if you’re not in the water. Just breathing in the air from the shoreline can expose you to aerosolized toxins. This is why it’s important to know the health of the water before you load the family into the car and head to the lake.

To protect your family this summer season and enjoy your trips to the lake, follow these tips:

  • Know before you go. Check for advisories before you head to the lake and avoid contact with the water when warnings are posted.
  • Stay out if the water is discolored, smells bad, or has foam or scum on the surface.
  • Do not fish, boat, or play watersports when harmful algae are present.
  • Immediately rinse exposed skin with clean water.
  • Keep pets out of the water.
  • Wear gloves and rinse pets immediately after contact with infected water.
  • Do not wash dishes or camping gear in water bodies.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before preparing food.
  • When in doubt, stay out,

Symptoms from exposure to harmful algal blooms include:

  • Skin, eye, nose, throat irritation
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Wheezing, coughing,  breathing difficulties
  • Headache, fever, fatigue

Signs that harmful algae could be present:

  • Water is green, blue-green, or red in color
  • Slimy plants, foam, scum, or mats floating on the surface
  • Musty, fishy, rotten egg, septic, or gasoline smell

Mountains above a clear lake

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