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Algae blooms in Hamilton Harbour

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

If it’s summer in Hamilton, then blue-green algae has been detected around Hamilton’s shores.
The city’s public health officials issued a cautionary warning to residents Aug. 2 to avoid the Bayfront Park boat launch, Bayfront beach and Pier 4 boat launch waters because of the annual arrival of the toxic algae. Algae have been spotted along the western shoreline of Hamilton Harbour.
Public health officials blame the warm weather, which helps to heat up Hamilton Harbour’s waters, for creating the “perfect” conductions for the algae to grow.
Matt Lawson, manager of environmental health, said because of the summer’s hot weather, the algae arrived about three weeks earlier than usual.
The algae, known as cyanobacteria, produces skin irritations, and itching if is contacts skin. If ingested or present in sufficient amounts, it can cause headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and rashes. Health officials advice if any of these symptoms are present, contact a physician.
Residents are advised not to eat fish caught in areas where the algae is present. And children and pets should also be prevented from drinking or touching the water.
Lawson said warning signs about the algae have been posted at Bayfront Park, the beach area, and Pier 4.
“It is a toxic substance,” he said.
Hamilton’s drinking water supply is not affected by the algae, officials say.
The city has issued a warning to residents about the algae every year since 2006. Lawson said staff conducts a rapid test of the algae in-house to determine the type of algae.
“It’s a simple test to determine the toxin,” he said. “We used to send out for the tests.”
The cyanobacteria, which is also known as “pond scum,” forms in shallow, warm, slow-moving or still waters. It is composed of cells, which can house poisons. A mass of cyanobacteria is called a bloom. The toxin is naturally produced and is stored in the cells of certain species of cyanobacteria.
Lawson said the algae goes away when cooler weather arrives, driving down the water’s temperature.
“The nutrients stop growing,” he said.
For more information about the algae, call the public health services’ safe water hot line at 905-546-2189, or click on the website www.hamilton.ca/safewater.

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