Monday, August 18, 2008

Pond scum can make you sick

A view of Country Pond in Kingston.
This is kinda frightening. The state put out a warning today about swimming in Country Pond in Kingston because of high levels of a blue-green algae known as cyanobacteria. Apparently ponds across New Hampshire are seeing high levels of this pond scum, and it's extremely dangerous if you ingest it accidentally. It can even be fatal, although fortunately no deaths have been reported in New Hampshire.
This is just good information to know if you swim in a pond or lake here, especially this year when the levels are higher than they've been in 10 years.

Here's my story appearing in tomorrow's New Hampshire Union Leader. This spells out just how bad this is and how serious we all should take it.

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent
KINGSTON - Swimmers and pet owners who use Country Pond were warned yesterday to stay out of the water after the state found high levels of cyanobacteria, a potentially dangerous pond scum that’s been more prevalent because of this summer’s morning sun followed by torrential rains.
“It’s very serious,” warned Jody Connor, limnology director for the state Department of Environmental Services. Country Pond is the latest pond in Kingston to show high levels of the blue-green algae that can release sickening toxins into the water.
Since July 22, the state has issued warnings for Greenwood Pond, Great Pond, and Half Moon Pond in Kinston. Those warnings remain in effect and are among more than a dozen warnings that have been issued for ponds and lakes across the state this summer.
“If you’re in an area where (the scum) is very thick, that’s where you’re going to find the most health effects,” Connor said. Fears over cyanobacteria prompted Boy Scout officials from the Yankee Clipper Council to call off water activities on Country Pond. The Lone Tree Scout Reservation is located along Country Pond, which is often used by the scouts. Council members said yesterday that the pond wouldn’t be used by the scouts until tests come back clean.
With excess phosphorus and ample sunlight, cyanobacteria blooms often form surface scums that are bright green or blue-green and resemble paint chips or bright green balls floating in the water. The cyanobacteria carry toxins in their cells which break down and are released into the water or a person who may accidentally ingest them in the water.
Connor said dogs who swim in areas with a high concentration of cells can drink the water or get the water on their fur, which they then lick off when they get out of the water. Some cyanobacteria produce toxins than can cause acute and chronic health effects ranging from skin and mucous membrane irritations, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea to damage to liver and the central nervous system.
Depending on the amount of toxins ingested, a pet or person could experience convulsions, seizures, or liver disease.
While there have been no reported deaths from the toxins in New Hampshire, Connor said they can be fatal. Deaths have been documented in other states, he said. Connor blames this summer’s weather conditions for creating the high levels of cyanobacteria, which he said are the worst the state has seen in the last 10 years.
The cynobacteria has thrived on the sunny mornings and the heavy bursts of rain in the afternoons where runoff has carried more materials into the ponds.
“A lot of lakes and ponds have low concentrations, but when given the right materials and right amount of food everything is ultimate for their growth. They produce at a high rate and that’s when they become dangerous,” Connor said.
More information on cyanobacteria can be found on the Web site for the state Department of Environmental Services,

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