Calgary

Toxic blue-green algae blooming on Alberta lakes

Blue-green algae is starting to show up in Alberta lakes again this summer, but scientists say they've got improved tools to detect the toxic blooms early.

Advisories issued for Severn Creek Reservoir and Eagle Lake east of Calgary

Researchers at the University of Alberta are monitoring about 50 lakes and recreational bodies of water for the appearance of toxic blue-green algae. (CBC)

Blue-green algae is starting to show up in Alberta lakes again this summer, but scientists say they've got improved tools to detect  the toxic blooms early.

Alberta Health Services has so far issued advisories for Severn Creek Reservoir and Eagle Lake east of Calgary and for Lake Isle west of Edmonton. People should not swim or wade in areas where the algae is visible, AHS says. 

Dr. Richard Musto, Calgary's medical officer of health, says contact with skin can lead to rashes, swollen eyes and lips or worse.

"When you ingest it, when you drink it or potentially get it through eating whole fish — because it tends to concentrate in the liver of the fish — then you can get stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea," he said.

Researchers at the University of Alberta monitor about 50 lakes and other recreational areas.

Biologist Rolf Vinebrooke says until a few years ago the water was tested by microscope — taking hours to process just a single sample. 

"And that time delay, really represented then a period of risk, such that you could have people unknowingly exposing themselves to elevated levels of blue-green algae," he said.

The scientists now have technology that quickly identifies the species found in water samples and provides automated cell counts.

"Those are what are used then to determine whether or not the World Health Organization guideline of 100,000 cells per [million] has been exceeded, and if that's the case, then that site can then be designated for the posting of a health advisory."

Health officials say lakes that had advisories last year will likely have the same issues this year. Continued warm, dry weather could increase the number of cases this summer.  

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.