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Algae bloom makes Black Lake waters unsafe for swimming, fishing

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MORRISTOWN — An algae bloom on Black Lake has the state Department of Environmental Conservation warning residents and visitors to stay clear of the water.

Extended contact with the algae bloom that may result from swimming, water skiing or other water-related activities could cause vomiting, diarrhea, skin or throat irritation, allergic reactions or difficulty breathing, according to a DEC news release distributed by the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department.

“The number of blooms and size of the blooms this year are atypical, but these do occur naturally,” Richard C. Henderson, president of the Black Lake Association, said in an email message.

An algae bloom is a population explosion of bacteria known as cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.

“These bacteria thrive on elevated levels of phosphorus in the water (mainly from poop as far as Black Lake is concerned) and proliferate when the water and air temperatures are extremely warm,” Mr. Henderson wrote.

He said leaking septic tanks and the warm summer have provided the bacteria with prime breeding conditions.

Algae blooms are capable of producing a harmful toxin called microcystin that can cause serious reactions in people and animals.

“The toxin level was extremely high compared to most blooms on lakes around New York State,” Mr. Henderson wrote.

Because of this, the Black Lake Association and DEC officials are encouraging people not to swim in the affected areas and to keep pets out as well. The areas with the greatest algae activity are around Tavern and Conger islands.

“The microcystin can cause liver cancer, kidney cancer and can lead to rapid kidney failure if ingested in large enough quantities,” Mr. Henderson said. “That’s why folks should avoid getting in the water, eating the fish and fishing without gloves. Definitely do not swim in or drink or swallow the water.”

He said pet owners should keep their animals out of the water to protect them from sickness.

DEC also advised people not to eat fish caught in bloom areas of the lake.

Mr. Henderson said property owners along the lake shore need to take responsibility for their septic systems, many of which are leaking high levels of phosphorus into the lake.

“Some of the phosphorous is natural, nothing we can do about that,” he wrote. “But the higher levels are definitely man’s fault.”

Mr. Henderson said the algae bloom should clear up when cooler weather kills off the bacteria.

A DEC official on Tuesday deferred comment to the county Public Health Department, which did not return a phone message.

More information about algae blooms is online at www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/83310.html.

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