Nova Scotia

Blue-green algae confirmed in Grand Lake

Toxins associated with blue-green algae have been confirmed in Grand Lake, N.S., but the province's Department of Environment is still awaiting further test results.

People are urged not to drink the water or swim in it

A warning sign at Oakfield Provincial Park on June 15. Toxins associated with blue-green algae have been confirmed in nearby Grand Lake. (Jack Julian/CBC)

Toxins associated with blue-green algae have been confirmed in Grand Lake, N.S., but the province's Department of Environment is awaiting further test results for pesticides and other chemical contaminants.

Those results are expected soon, the department said. In the meantime, people are still being urged to avoid drinking the water in Grand Lake, and avoid any skin contact with the water.

"We still want people to be cautious and not use the water," Julie Towers, deputy minister of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, told media outside the East Hants Aquatic Centre in Elmsdale, N.S.

"Now that we know it's in the lake, chances are there will be other blooms."

Blue-green algae blooms will come and go out of the water, but now that the algae's presence is confirmed in Grand Lake, it should not be used as a water supply.

The investigation began after a person went to hospital and two dogs died Wednesday.

The province had taken samples from Grand Lake and nearby Fish Lake, located roughly 30 kilometres north of Halifax, to look for contaminants that can be found in pesticides, toxins produced by algae, and E. coli.

The samples were sent to the National Research Council for testing.

Samples from Fish Lake were negative for cyanotoxins, which are caused by blue-green algae. All other tests for chemical contaminants, in both Fish Lake and Grand Lake, are pending.

Followup sampling

While initial rapid test results completed by the department last week were negative for cyanotoxins, Towers said rapid test results are often inconclusive.

A Dalhousie University professor also took water samples last week and determined there were no toxins associated with blue-green algae in those samples. But Towers said results can vary depending on where and how the samples are collected.

"The straight water sample couldn't detect anything but the sample taken from the plant mat, the algae mat, did show a positive result," she said.

Julie Towers, the deputy minister for the Department of Environment and Climate Change, provided an update on the investigation Tuesday afternoon. (Jack Julian/CBC)

Department of Environment staff are planning followup sampling.

The department has been in contact with the veterinarian handling the necropsies of the dogs who died, but Towers said there is nothing conclusive yet and tests are ongoing.

An alert was issued last Thursday morning warning all residents who take water directly from Grand Lake to stop using the water immediately.

Halifax Water and the East Hants Regional Municipality have said their water systems are not affected by the advisory.

Drinking water, showers available

The municipality of East Hants is providing free drinking water and shower facilities to anyone who needs them. 

More than 160 people have dropped by to use one or both of those services since Thursday, an official with the municipality said Tuesday.

"We want folks to do what they feel is right and they feel confident in. Our drinking water is safe coming from our system … However, if you're more confident going with this other service for now, absolutely do so," Jesse Hulsman told reporters.

Jesse Hulsman is the director of infrastructure and operations for the Municipality of East Hants. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

People will be on site at the East Hants Aquatic Centre to hand out water bottles daily from 8 a.m. until noon, and again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Shower facilities are available as long as the centre's doors are open, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, with reduced hours over the weekend.

Hulsman said those services will continue to be available throughout the week.

On Thursday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans also issued an advisory stating all fishing and harvesting in Grand Lake is prohibited.

With chemical test results still pending, the department said they will share those results on Twitter as they arrive, giving priority to results that have safety implications for the public.

With files from Jack Julian