Harmful Algae Blooms Prompt Oakland County Lake Warnings

Oakland County health officials are warning swimmers and others to avoid the “green sheen,” a harmful algae bloom that has developed due to recent weather conditions. People and pets should avoid direct contact with water that appears scummy, looks like spilled paint, or has a green sheen to it. The scum may contain flecks, foam, or clumps, the Oakland County Health division said in its advisory.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notified officials that it has identified the harmful algae blooms, known as HABs, in White Lake Township’s Sugden Lake and Pontiac Lake in Waterford and White Lake townships. (Click here to find your local Michigan Patchon sign up for newsletters and real-time news alerts; if you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app.)

Caution signs will be posted at both lakes, but health officials urged swimmers and boaters exercise caution even if a lake isn’t posted.

“If you see algae, avoid direct contact with it and keep pets away as well,” Leigh-Anne Stafford, health officer for Oakland County Health Division, said in the advisory. “Although algae are a natural presence in waterways, special precautions need to be followed to prevent illness.”

Dense populations of algae are called a bloom. Some blooms are harmless, but when the blooming organisms contain toxins it is known as HABs. HABs can produce conditions harmful to humans, pets, and aquatic life.
Take the following actions if a HAB is present:

  • Do not drink untreated surface water, whether or not blooms are present. Remember, boiling the water will not remove the toxins.
  • Obey posted signs for public health advisories and/or beach closings.
  • Do not allow children or pets to play in or drink water where algae or scum is present.
  • Do not boat at high speeds, water-ski, or swim in areas of the lake where algal blooms are present. Avoid direct contact with the lake water or sprinklers.
  • Do not water lawns, gardens, or golf courses with water from HAB-impacted lakes or ponds because it aerosolizes the water.
  • Report unpleasant tastes or smells in your drinking water to the local water utility.
  • Individual property owners should not use algaecides to kill HABs because of the risk of releasing toxins directly into the water. Treatment requires a permit from the MDEQ.
  • Do not have direct contact with mussels or other bivalves (i.e., zebra mussels) from impacted areas.
  • Limit or avoid eating fish from impacted areas. If fish are consumed, eat only the filets – remove guts and liver and rinse filets in clean drinking water. Always follow the Eat Safe Fish waterbody-specific guidelines or Statewide Safe Fish Guidelines, even if a waterbody does not look impacted, available at www.michigan.gov/eatsafefish.
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People and pets can experience the following symptoms after contact with a HAB:
Skin contact may cause:

  • Rashes, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits).
  • Runny eyes and noses
  • Sore throat
  • Asthma-like symptoms
  • Allergic reactions
  • Severe diarrhea/vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Abnormal liver function
  • Kidney toxicity
  • Weakness, salivation, tingly fingers, numbness, dizziness, difficulties breathing, or death

If you think you have been exposed to a HAB, take the following precautions:

  • Remove people from the exposure and seek medical treatment if symptoms occur.
  • Thoroughly rinse off pets with clean, fresh water if they swam in an area with a HAB. If they lick their fur after leaving the water, they may ingest large amounts of the toxin.
  • Seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible if you think your pet might have been poisoned by toxic HAB.

Photo via Shutterstock

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Originally published August 10, 2017.

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