2009-07-25 / News

Low levels of toxic algae found in Buckeye Lake

BUCKEYE LAKE - Don't blame the geese!

The Ohio EPA recently found low levels of microcystin toxin, or toxic algae, in Buckeye Lake. According to an Ohio EPA report issued July 15, the World Health Organization benchmark for low-risk recreational contact with microcystin is 20 parts per billion (ppb). Samples from Buckeye Lake ranged between 1 to 10 ppb.

More recent samples from Buckeye Lake were well below 10 ppb. Samples were taken at three beaches including Brooks, Fairfield and Crystal beaches. Based on recent test results, there is no need to issue an algae alert for Buckeye Lake.

George O'Donnell, of Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow, said goose fecal matter is not creating the algae, as some have suggested. Instead, O'Donnell said he verified with Linda Merchant- Masonbrink, the Ohio EPA's Inland Lakes Program coordinator, that phosphorus and nitrogen from 180 years of septic tanks draining near (and occasionally into) the lake cause the toxic algae. Also, O'Donnell said there is not enough high quality (clear) water running through the lake, the lake is currently stagnating a little (it's now five inches below full pool) and the July heat, are all contributing.

"Septic tanks have created for the last 180 years a very high level of phosphorous and nitrogen," said O'Donnell. "Phosphorous does not dissipate." People throwing dog feces, grass clippings, and leaves into the lake don't help, either, he said. "Should people be concerned? At this level, no," said O'Donnell, but suggested that pets, babies, and people with respiratory ailments should avoid being in the water. "Mitigation of all the algae problems are on the (Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow) screen and it will take time to reverse the direction the lake is headed," he said.

According to an Ohio EPA press release, the Ohio EPA and ODNR plan to continue sam- pling throughout the summer depending on funding availability. The Ohio EPA will have ongoing communication with scientists and laboratories studying this topic because algal toxins are an emerging issue in the scientific community.

Linda Fee Oros, state wide issues media coordinator for Ohio EPA, provided The Beacon with the following information:

Question: Should people stay out of the water because of the microcystin toxin?

EPA: The only advisory that is presently in place for microcystin toxin is at Grand Lake St. Marys (in western Ohio, near Celina). The state is concerned about the presence of algal toxins in Grand Lake St. Marys. With the limited information available, people are advised to minimize or eliminate direct contact with the water, especially where accidental ingestion may occur. Non-contact recreation, such as boating, fishing and sunbathing, should not result in problems. Swimming, jet skiing and water skiing are not recommended due to the higher potential for ingestion of lake water. So yes, people should stay out of Grand Lake St. Marys. However, there's no advisory of this kind for Buckeye Lake. We will continue to monitor Buckeye Lake for microcystin throughout the summer.

Q: What is microcystin toxin?

EPA: Bluegreen algae are actually bacteria (cyanobacteria), but are commonly described as algae. There are many species of algae and most do not produce toxins. One type of toxin produced by some bluegreen algae is known as microcystin. Scientists do not fully understand what causes the same species of algae to trigger toxin production during one bloom and then not produce toxin during the next.

Q: How does microcystin toxin affect people and wildlife?

EPA: Health effects from contact can include skin irritation such as a rash or hay fever-like symptoms. Ingestion may cause gastrointestinal illness and eventually liver issues, according to the World Health Organization. The primary exposure pathway of concern is ingestion of untreated water. Pets, particularly dogs, are especially susceptible to harmful health effects if they are in the lake water, due to the amount of water they tend to ingest compared to their size. Pets should not be allowed to play in or drink water where algal blooms are present or when microcystin toxin levels are 20 parts per billion or higher (Buckeye Lake is well below 20 parts per billion).

Q: Does Buckeye Lake have a low amount of the toxin?

EPA: Samples taken near three beaches along Buckeye Lake over the last three weeks ranged from .4 to 1.3. According to World Health Organization Provisional Guidelines for Microcystin, levels above 20 parts per billion are considered a moderate risk. Right now, Buckeye Lake is testing quite a bit below that level. Weekly testing will continue throughout the recreation season and results will be posted on the Ohio EPA Inland Lakes Monitoring Program web site (http://www.epa.state.oh.us/ dsw/inland_lakes/index.html). If a Water Quality Advisory is issued, it will be posted at the state park beaches and on the above web site.

Q: Is the toxin level consistent throughout the lake?

EPA: The state has a limited amount of actual sampling data. The samples have been taken at the state park beaches. However, it is reasonable to assume that algal toxins could be present anywhere in a lake where microcystin has been found. This is because the lake is shallow and the water is easily moved by wind. In addition, you can see from the sample results that there has been quite a bit of fluctuation in microcystin samples taken so far.

Q: What can be done to eliminate the toxin?

EPA: Streams in the watershed are impaired primarily by high levels of bacteria from livestock operations, failing residential septic systems and fertilizers and


herbicides over-applied to grass and plants. In addition, livestock and row crop agriculture runoff allow phosphorus and nitrates to enter the streams and lake, resulting in heavy algal growth. Stream channel modification can contribute excess soil to streams that leads to damaged aquatic life habitat and downstream transport to the lake. Conservation farming practices, improved manure management and upgraded home septic systems would lead to major improvements.

Q: What caused it?

EPA: It is caused by nutrients, including phosphorus, that drain off the landscape and into the lake. The nutrients can contribute to algae growth.

Q: When will there be more tests?

EPA: Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will work together on weekly sampling throughout the summer in an effort to collect more data about the presence of algal toxins.

Return to top