UPDATE: The swimming areas at Red Jacket and Indian Pines Parks in Penn Yan are reopening today (Aug. 9) at 11 a.m. Officials at Keuka Lake State Park are still awaiting test results to determine when that area will reopen.
Those who live on and love to swim in Keuka Lake are becoming more watchful of their shoreline after algae that could cause health problems was identified on the lake’s surface last week.
Swimming areas at Penn Yan’s Red Jacket and Indian Pines Parks remained closed through the weekend, Monday, and Tuesday while State Department of Health officials conducted tests to determine if algae blooms here are of the harmful type that can pose a danger to humans or pets.
The Department of Health ordered the swimming areas closed Friday, Aug. 4 after the presence of blue green algae was confirmed by observation. Monday, a DOH official visited the swimming areas to gather water samples. Penn Yan Village officials expected to hear the test results sometime Tuesday afternoon. Check www.yatescountypublichealth.org for the most up-to-date information about the status of the swimming areas.
Blue-green algae occur naturally in bodies of water in low numbers. During prolonged hot weather algae can become abundant, discoloring water and forming scums — particularly in warm, shallow areas. Some blue-green algae produce toxins. People and animals exposed in large enough quantities may face health risks from contact with the toxin released by the dying algae. That is why the public swimming areas were closed, and lakeshore residents are advised to monitor conditions.
Dr. Timothy Sellers of Keuka College says the presence of the algae itself should not raise concerns. However, when the algae forms a “bloom,” which is a great concentration of the algae, resulting in a green scum on the surface of the water, there is reason to be cautious.
Sellers, Associate Provost of Academic Innovation and Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Keuka College, is the founder and director of the Center for Aquatic Research at Keuka College and the head science advisor for the Keuka Lake Association. He has been monitoring the situation since Friday, and says, “I would recommend that everyone obey the guidelines and directives given by the Department of Health (DoH). Safety is most important, and the DoH is charged to ensure this safety.” But he also points out: “The lake conditions that favor bloom formation (warm and calm water) have not existed since Thursday, Aug. 3. Since that time, the weather has been much cooler, and there has been much more wind that mixes the water. I would not expect, nor have I seen, any blooms from Friday through today.”
Sellers, who tested water from various areas on the western shore of Keuka’s east branch, says he has not found evidence of algae blooms or the presence of the cyanobacteria that causes the blooms in his own sampling.
“However, despite this apparent good news, it was doubtful that these samples would be positive (even if true) because of the relatively rough water conditions. Cyanobacteria blooms develop on the water surface in relatively calm waters. Well-mixed waters (rough, choppy) disperse the cyanobacteria blooms making detection very difficult. Today’s conditions were relatively choppy with waves,” he reported Monday.
There are a number of species that can look similar to BGA, but are harmless, and Sellers says the timing of the first report last Friday meant that samples could not be analyzed. With no confirmed testing, there was some confusion about the conditions in the lake.
Officials at the Yates County Public Health office list symptoms of toxin exposure, which may include allergic reactions or eye, skin, nose, and throat irritation. Ingesting large amounts of water containing blue-green algae toxins has resulted in liver and nervous system damage in laboratory animals, pets, livestock and people.
People, pets and livestock should avoid contact with water that has scums on the surface or is discolored-blue-green, yellow, brown or red. If contact does occur, wash with soap and water or rinse thoroughly with clean water.
If symptoms of toxin exposure develop, stop using the water and seek medical attention.
Swimming, bathing or showering with water not visibly affected by a blue-green algae bloom is not expected to cause health effects.
Individuals should not drink untreated surface water. Home boiling, disinfecting (chlorine or UV), and filtering do not remove algal toxins. When using surface water to wash dishes, rinse with bottled water. In addition to toxins, untreated surface water may contain bacteria, parasites or viruses known to cause illness.
Sellers says Penn Yan’s municipal water supply would not be affected by an algae bloom.
Deborah Minor, director of Yates County Public Health, says people who spot conditions that could be a blue green algae bloom should suspect it could contain harmful toxins unless a test proves otherwise.
“If the water does not look inviting, then don’t jump in. If you do, rinse off with clean water. Please follow all advice detailed by the Department of Health. Fortunately, common sense follows the science in these cases,” says Sellers.
Questionable conditions should be reported to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. This initial report will set things in motion for action by the state Department of Health and county Public Health officials.
Submit a report at NYS DEC Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Notifications Page at www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/83310.html
Contact the Region 8 DEC office at 585-226-2466 between 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Find more information about surface water algae blooms at