FREDERICTON (GNB) – The public is advised to be aware of the potential health risks posed by some algal blooms in lakes and other bodies of water.

Under the right conditions, algae blooms can occur naturally in many water systems including lakes, rivers and wetlands. This typically occurs during the summer months or early fall and can appear blue-green, green, red, brown or yellow in colour.

“Not all algae blooms are harmful to human health,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. “We want all residents to be active and enjoy the outdoors, but we also want them to understand and consider the potential risks of exposure to these blooms.”

Some blue-green algae can produce toxins (microcystins). These toxins can cause skin, eye and throat irritation. More serious health effects such as gastrointestinal illness can occur if toxins are consumed.

Microcystins are substances produced by the blue-green algae and may be harmful to people, pets and livestock at very high levels, or if consumed over long periods. Special consideration should be given to those who may be sensitive to this algae, such as young children or those with skin conditions.

“Algal blooms can be unpredictable so it is important that people be cautious and check the water before entering,” said Russell. “A blue-green algae bloom can appear as surface scum and/or discoloured water. If a blue-green algae bloom is suspected, do not swim, water-ski or engage in any other recreational activity that may involve contact with water in areas where a bloom is observed.”

Additional safety advice includes:

  • Do not drink water from areas with blue-green algal blooms. Boiling the water will not remove toxins. Always obtain drinking water from a clean and safe source.
  • Fish caught from water where blooms are present should have all their organs removed and be rinsed well with clean drinking water before being cooked and eaten.
  • Even if no blooms are present, it is recommended you shower with clean water after being in recreational waters.

The departments of health and environment and local government are working together to ensure reported or suspected blooms are evaluated and that advisories are posted where appropriate.

Suspected algae blooms should be reported to the nearest Department of Environment and Local Government regional office.

More information is about blue-green algae is available online.