Toxic Bacteria Identified In Three Southampton Ponds

The Suffolk County Department of Health and the State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a warning this week about a potentially hazardous bacteria in Wickapogue Pond in Southampton Village, the third pond in the area to be posted with warnings… in the last two weeks.

Residents have been warned not to swim in or come in contact with the waters of Wickapogue Pond, adding it to a list that includes Lake Agawam in Southampton Village and Mill Pond in Water Mill. An alert issued this week by the health department warned residents to keep pets and children away from the ponds’ waters to keep them from ingesting any water, which could cause grave illness.

County and state officials said there had been no other effort to specifically alert residents near any of the ponds where cyanobacteria had been detected, other than posting signs at various access points. There was no warning sign posted at the end of the only public trail leading to Wickapogue Pond this week.

The alerts were sparked by the presence of thick blooms of blue-green algae in the ponds, which carry a naturally occurring bacteria, known as cyanobacteria, that can be toxic to humans and animals. The health department confirmed a widespread bloom of the toxic algae in Wickapogue Pond over the July 4 holiday. Alerts were issued the week prior for Mill Pond and Lake Agawam, where cyanobacteria-producing algae have been found in previous years.

Wickapogue Pond2

“Residents who have been recently exposed to cyanobacteria at these water bodies and have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; skin, eye or throat irritation; allergic reactions; or breathing difficulties are advised to seek medical attention,” the county alert warns. “Contact with waters that appear scummy or discolored should be avoided.”

Cyanobacteria can cause serious illness in adults and can be fatal to small children and pets if ingested. In 2012, a dog died after drinking water from Georgica Pond in East Hampton, which was believed to be contaminated by cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria-producing algae blooms have also been identified this year in Big Reed Pond in Montauk and in a pond in Mattituck, according to the county health department.

Just last week, President Barack Obama signed the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act, a bipartisan bill that directs federal funding to research on harmful algae blooms in fresh and tidal waters nationwide.

Along with species that produce toxins like cyanobacteria, dense blooms of algae can cause hypoxia, a sudden sapping of oxygen from the water, in ponds and small tidal water bodies, which can be deadly to fish. Large fish kills from hypoxic conditions caused by dense algae blooms occurred in Lake Agawam in 2003 and in Mill Pond in 2009.

Algae blooms in most water bodies, both tidal and freshwater, are fed by elevated nutrient levels, primarily caused by pollution from runoff and groundwater contamination from human activities. Residential septic systems and lawn and farm fertilizers have been blamed for algae blooms in Mill Pond.

“This just goes to underscore the tremendous amount of damage our ponds are getting from upland sources,” Southampton Town Trustee Eric Shultz said this week of the cyanobacteria warnings. “Stopping pollution at the source has to be the focus, rather than remediating it after it’s entered our water bodies.”

After the Mill Pond fish kill in 2009, Water Mill residents and the Southampton Town Trustees embarked on a years-long campaign to try to address the algae blooms. Last year, the town paid more than $200,000 for an experimental application of a clay compound in the 120-acre pond. The application seemed to lower phosphorous levels briefly, but then a series of intense rainfalls spiked nutrient levels in the pond, and algae blooms returned. A second application scheduled for the spring was shelved because of doubts among town officials about its effectiveness.


Photo caption: Wickapogue Pond in Southampton Village. DANA SHAW

Michael Wright, 27east

View original article at: Toxic Bacteria Identified In Three Southampton Ponds

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