Can I drink the water after algae bloom fades?

[USA] As the toxic algae bloom on Skaneateles Lake fades away, shoreline residents who draw their own water directly from the lake are asking: Can I drink my water now?

The answer from state and county health officials: You probably shouldn’t be drinking it at all, even if there’s no algae bloom.

“There’s inherently a risk in drawing water directly from the lake, even if there are at-home treatment systems,” said Brad Hutton, deputy commissioner for the state health department’s Office of Public Health. “They’re not limited to just algae bloom toxins, but also bacteria, parasites and viruses.”

Hutton said home treatment systems aren’t always effective against a wide range of contaminants, and they need routine maintenance to work properly.

The state health department urges anyone drawing water from a lake or river to switch to a municipal water supply or a well.

The Skaneateles Lake bloom is nearly over; the last three samples reported on the Onondaga County Health Department website show non-detectable levels of toxins getting into the two intake pipes that serve the city of Syracuse water supply. The state was testing the water supply daily, but cut back to twice a week as the bloom faded.

Health officials have said that none of the toxins, called microcystins, reached anyone’s tap water in the Syracuse drinking water system since the bloom began in September.

It’s not possible to say that for private systems, said Dr. Indu Gupta, county health commissioner.

“We don’t know what quality the water is going to people’s homes” who have their own intakes, Gupta said. “We’ll never be able to say it’s safe to drink because we don’t have control over the system they have in place.”

Residents can test their water for algae toxins, but health officials say that can be expensive and misleading. A single test can cost $100 and gives a result of only a brief snapshot in time. Algae blooms move with the wind and waves, and a water supply that tests clean one day can be contaminated the next.

“From a public health perspective, I find it very dangerous if someone says I want to have my water tested,” said Lloyd Wilson, director of water quality initiatives for the state’s Center of Environmental Health. “A surface water body has water movement. Depending on which way the wind blows, we could have bloom on the west shore one day and the east shore the next day.”

Some residents complain that they haven’t had good answers about whether they should be drinking the water.

“They’re all concerned about the city water, but no one is addressing the people who live on the lake and take their water directly from the lake,” said Judy Seidberg, a seasonal resident of the lake.

In the wake of the Skaneateles Lake outbreak, the county health department has compiled a fact sheet for residents who draw water directly from a lake. It includes discussion of home treatment systems and tips for avoiding exposure to algae toxins.

 

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