Potentially toxic algae blooms hit Interior B.C. lakes
Some residents in B.C.'s Central Interior are being told to avoid drinking or bathing in their tap water following an outbreak of potentially toxic algae blooms.
A public advisory was issued to some communities outside Prince George after a thick turquoise film giving off a pungent odour appeared on the shores of the Tachick and Cluculz lakes.
Health officials warned the blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, could compromise the water quality and say anyone who draws water from the lakes should stop.
B.C.'s Ministry of Health says there are two types of toxins or poisons in some blue-green algae:
- "Neurotoxins affect the nervous and respiratory systems. These toxins can cause muscle tremors, stupor, staggering, rapid paralysis, problems with breathing and, often within 30 minutes, death. Animals that die from this toxin are usually found close to the lake or pond where they drank water with blue-green algal blooms."
- "Hepato-toxins affect the liver and can cause a slow death, up to 36 hours or longer after drinking water with toxic strains of blue-green algae. Animals who get sick after drinking enough of this toxin may show jaundice (yellowing of the white of the eye) and sensitivity to sunlight."
Bruce Gaunt of the Northern Health Authority said even boiling the water will not make it safe.
"The thing about blue-green algae is, if it has the toxins — and not all blue-green algae does — the toxin is not destroyed by boiling of water. In fact, boiling of water might make things worse by destroying the … cells, releasing [the toxins] into the water."
Mellissa Winfield of Environment Canada said the blooms are common at this time of year and show up in nutrient-rich environments.
"There's an increased incidence in areas where there is high surface run-off from fertilizers, agricultural livestock areas, any type of human input areas — sewage discharge, detergents," said Winfield.
The blooms could last up to a month, said Winfield. And until they are gone, health officials warn the residents not to drink, bathe in or allow livestock or any pets access to water with visible blooms.