Warnings posted at Toad, Wiser lakes because of toxic algae

The Bellingham Herald

You’re going to want to stay out of Wiser and Toad lakes and keep your pets out of the water, too, for the time being.

Tests have confirmed that the blue-green algae bloom in those lakes are toxic.

Warning signs were posted at the lakes Friday, Sept. 4, according to Greg Stern, Whatcom County health officer.

The state Department of Ecology took water samples from Toad, near Bellingham, and Wiser, outside of Lynden, on Wednesday.

Results were well above levels considered safe.

Health and Ecology officials said there have been more intense and widespread algae blooms this summer in the state’s lakes and streams, as well as the marine waters of Puget Sound. Scientists believe warm water due to the recent hot weather and the state’s drought could be part of the cause.

Blue-green algae blooms often look like green paint or dye floating on water, but they can be bright green, blue, brown or reddish green. The algae is made up of extremely small organisms that are difficult to pick up or hold.

Most blue-green algae blooms are not toxic. But depending on conditions, the algae can release toxins into the water that, in high enough concentrations, can sicken humans and kill animals. People who drink the contaminated water may have numbness of the lips, tingling in their fingers and toes, and dizziness. People who swim in contaminated water may develop a skin rash.

But the only way to know whether the algae, also known as cyanobacteria, is toxic is to have it tested.

Not all waterways in Washington state are monitored for such blooms, but lakes can be tested if there’s a suspected bloom.

Mycrocystins are the most commonly found blue-green algae toxins in Washington state waters. The other one that’s tested for is anatoxin-a because it, too, is more common.

Initial results taken Aug. 25 by Beth Anderson, a Bellingham-area woman who swims in Toad Lake just about every day during summer, came back negative for anatoxin-a.

But mycrocystins levels were well above state guidelines to protect human health in recreational bodies of water. That’s 6 micrograms per liter.

The sample Anderson took, from a private beach on the east side of the lake where she entered the water to swim, was 203 micrograms per liter for microsystins.

The second sample taken from the same area came back twice as high — at 483 micrograms per liter.

Again, it was negative for anatoxin-a.

At Wiser Lake, microcystins levels were 49 micrograms per liter and 21.9 for anatoxin-a.

State guidelines to protect human health in recreational bodies of water for anatoxin-a is 1 microgram per liter.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.