Potentially toxic algae found in Cape Fear River

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (KOIN 6) — High toxin levels from blue-green algae were found at Lane County Lake, and authorities want people to stay away from it…

The health advisory was issued after the algae was found in Walterville Pond, about five miles east of Springfield, officials said.

A potentially toxic blue-green algae that caused the shutdown of the public water system in Toledo, Ohio, has been found in the Cape Fear River at Lock and Dam No. 1, near the water intakes for the Brunswick and New Hanover counties’ water systems.

That does not necessarily mean that local water supplies will be compromised.

Officials with the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority said Tuesday there was no immediate health hazard to customers in New Hanover County, as the processing plants for the utility are equipped to effectively eradicate any bacteria in the water.

“Because of CFPUA’s advanced treatment, which includes the use of ozone and biologically active carbon filters, the algae is destroyed and removed. As a result, we have not experienced any water quality-related issues related to algae blooms,” said Mike McGill, CFPUA spokesman. “We will continue to monitor the situation.”

Glenn Walker, water resources superintendent for Brunswick County Utilities, said he constantly monitors the river. He said he feels “there is no threat for a bloom at the moment.”

Walker said that heavy rains in the area have increased flow in the river, which decreases the likelihood for an algae bloom.

Walker said Brunswick had turned on its carbon treatment system recently after some elevated pigment levels near the Elwell Ferry created some concern. But the carbon system was turned off Tuesday, he said.

Walker added that it takes about two days for water to reach the treatment plant from the river intake, and the carbon treatment system can be turned on again with the flip of a switch.

Bob Walker, executive director of H2GO, Brunswick’s regional water and sewer service, said he wasn’t aware of any potential problems.

Microcystis, bacteria-like algae that thrive in hot temperatures and low-flow waters, have flourished in the Cape Fear River in five of the past six summers. Though the Wilmington area has received nearly nonstop rain for the past week, inland areas, including the dam, haven’t seen as much precipitation, allowing the organisms to flourish there. The algae sit on the top of the water column, soaking in sunlight and nutrients that settle in the river. Frequently, the algae become toxic, producing a class of poisons known as cyanotoxins that in humans can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, cramps, mouth blisters and kidney and liver damage, among other things. The blooms don’t always indicate the presence of toxins, though algae forming in the Cape Fear River are more often than not laced with them.

“It seems to produce toxins mostly when it feels like it. When there’s a lot of nitrogen around, it makes more of the toxin, and the river is just crawling with nitrogen,” Cahoon said. “We know from the past that microcystis that has bloomed here in the river has, indeed, been toxic, as often as we’ve looked at it.”

There’s no in-river treatment for algae blooms. Typically, cooler temperatures and heavy rainfalls are enough to break them up. Any algae in New Hanover County water supplies should be destroyed by CFPUA’s treatment methods.

“(At CFPUA), the ozone should destroy the toxin,” Cahoon said. “Brunswick County, on the other hand, doesn’t have an ozone system that I know of. I did alert them when we first saw this, and we’ve heard nothing back from them.”

Similar algae blooms shut down drinking water systems in Toledo, the fourth-largest city in Ohio. Hundreds of thousands of residents there were told not to drink tap water last week after supplies were tainted by a bloom in Lake Erie. That ban was lifted Monday, according to reports.


Photo caption: Large clouds of blue-green algae could return throughout the Cape Fear River if there is another extended period of hot, dry weather. Photo courtesy NCDENR, Division of Water Quality.

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