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Blue-green algae advisories in place at several Alberta lakes

EDMONTON- As Albertans head out to enjoy the last long weekend of the summer, Alberta Health Services (AHS) has a warning for those heading to certain lakes in our province.

Blue-green algae advisories are in place for dozens of Alberta lakes, including Pigeon Lake, Pine Lake, Lac St. Anne, Half Moon Lake and Lake Isle. Blue-green algae produce a toxin that can cause serious illness to animals or humans who drink or have skin contact with water containing this toxin.

“Some of the symptoms somebody might have within one to three hours of consuming the water, for example, would be fever, a headache, nausea, vomiting, maybe diarrhea,” explained Dr. Rob Briggs, a medical officer of health with AHS.

Those spending time at Half Moon Lake this weekend say they’re aware of the advisory, but not overly concerned about the algae.

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“I haven’t really ventured too far into the lake yet,” said Christina Lavallie. Although she added “I’ve never had any issues with it and I have friends that have lots around the lake that have never had problems with it, so I’m not too concerned.”

“We’ll take note of it. We want to make sure we protect the kids and, again, look after the lake,” added Garry Nelson.

Blue-green algae advisories have been issued for about 20 Alberta lakes this August alone.

“The longer that the warm weather continues, the more the plants grow. Cyanobacteria relies on fertilizer, phosphate, nitrogen, light, warmth to grow, so it’s not uncommon that in early to mid-August is when you’d first you see this,” Briggs explained.

But while it may seem more prevalent this year, Briggs says blue-green algae have been a problem in the prairies for several years.

“We try to keep the public very well informed regarding this. Certainly I think part of the reason the public is hearing more about it is because our testing is more advanced than it was before and we’re also a lot more proactive in terms of testing our lakes, at least our problem lakes, than we were before.”

AHS officials constantly monitor lakes for blue-green algae. And problem lakes, like Pigeon Lake, are tested on a weekly basis.

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“Samples are sent to different labs throughout the province to monitor for the blue-green algae itself, the cell count concentrations, as well as the concentration of microcystin in the water, or the toxin in the water, that most people are concerned about,” explained Jessica Ponto, an environmental health officer with AHS.

“There’s some lakes that are more predisposed to getting the blue-green algae blooms and those are the same lakes that we regularly monitor,” added Briggs.

But while the algae have been around for hundreds of years, Briggs says it is possible that increased land use is making the issue a little bit worse.

“For example, fertilizer as runoff can lead to increased blue-green algae growth. And increased, I guess, sewage can also cause worse blue-green algae if there’s sewage runoff.”

Briggs says blue-green algae advisories typically remain in place until October 1st when temperatures start to cool down.

For a complete list of lakes with blue-green algae advisories in place, visit Alberta Health Services’ website.

With files from Tom Vernon. 

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