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Vermont: Days Of Undetected Algae Blooms Numbered

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Vermont's lakes and ponds used to be places where potentially toxic algae could bloom unnoticed until after a swimmer or dog had already come in contact with the blue-green scum.

This is now changing as public awareness about the dangers of algae has grown. Last year, a bloom was reported in the North Springfield Reservoir and the waterway was closed after officials studied digital photos of the blooms sent in from the public.

"Each season we try to expand our outreach and the blooms are detected earlier each year," said State Toxicologist Bill Bress, PhD of the Vermont Department of Health. "Thanks to all those Vermonters who take the time to call, take photos, and generally help in any way they can to make sure no one is exposed."

In collaboration with partner agencies and the University of Vermont, the Health Department developed a comprehensive surveillance and monitoring system in 1999. Blooms can be reported by calling the Health Department at 1-800-439-8550 (VT only).

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Some kinds of blue-green algae produce dangerous toxins. Exposure can result in skin irritation or allergic reactions, and drinking water that contains toxins produced by algae can result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Children are considered to be at higher risk because they are more likely to accidentally drink the water.

Swimming is not the only danger. People can also inhale or swallow blue-green algae when water skiing or using a jet ski.

No human cases of illness related to blue-green algae have been documented in Vermont.

Dogs are at high risk of if they swim in an algae bloom and then lick it off their fur. Two dogs died after drinking large amounts of water with a toxic blue-green algae bloom in Lake Champlain in 1999.

A rare bloom was observed last year in November in Niquette Bay State Park in Colchester, and digital photos of the bloom were sent to the Health Department by a park official. Even though there was no risk to recreational users at the time due to the late season and cold weather, a warning was posted at the beach so that pet owners would not let their dogs near the water and risk exposure.

The Health Department posts an online status map of algae blooms in Lake Champlain, including facts and photographs.