The Associated Press 08/29/98 12:19 PM Eastern
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- A poisonous algae in western Lake Erie is increasing concerns about drinking untreated water, but it shouldn't ruin any plans for boaters and swimmers looking to enjoy the final days of summer, experts say.
Scientists are warning people from Toledo to the Lake Erie islands to be wary of drinking water straight out of the lake until at least October. People staying in cabins that draw raw water from the lake should be especially wary.
David Culver, a zoology professor at Ohio State University who is studying the algae, said the water is safe for an occasional swim but cautions against diving in where large clumps of the light-green algae are on the surface.
"Most people wouldn't go in if they did see this," he said Thursday. "It's a green scum that floats on the surface."
The algae, called microcystis, has been around Lake Erie for years. In the 1970s, the surface often was covered with the algae, but as the lake has gotten cleaner it disappeared. It returned in 1995, but was barely noticeable since.
"The thing I want people to understand is that we've had these blooms for years," Culver said.
Why it came it back is a mystery. Culver said it may be due to the lake's high water temperature this year.
Untreated water containing high levels of the algae can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps when consumed in large amounts. A simple gulp or two probably wouldn't cause any suffering, Culver said.
County health departments along the lake say they have no plans to issue any warnings. Neither does the state's Department of Natural Resources, which monitors state park beaches along the lake.
Most communities along the lake effectively remove any traces of the algae from their public water supply by running the raw water through a series of carbon filters.
Fish and wildlife are more commonly victimized. Large birds have been known to get so sick they cannot raise their wings for weeks. In many cases, they die of starvation.
Dog owners shouldn't allow their pets to drink out of water along the lake or in rivers where the algae is floating.
John Hageman, manager of OSU's Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island near Put-in-Bay, said the first signs of this summer's microcystis bloom appeared a couple of weeks ago.
Portions of the water near Put-in-Bay and the Lake Erie islands that are normally clear now have a green tint to them, Hageman said.
The algae thrives at about 12 feet below the surface, but as it dies it rises to the surface. Lately, strong winds have circulated the water enough to keep some of the algae from clumping together and rising to the surface.
The algae is expected to be in full bloom through mid-September, but when the water cools it should disappear quickly, Culver said.
© The Associated Press, 1998
HISTORICAL SKETCH OF AVON, OHIO, TO 1974