Toxic Algae Bloom Prompts Utah Lake Closure

Aerial view of Utah LakeOn Friday, authorities closed Utah lake due to a toxic algae bloom that has turned it into a health hazard overnight. Public health officials warn that the algae release  dangerous chemicals which could lead to brain and liver damage in humans and animals.

Swimming in the lake is now strictly forbidden.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has tested the waters and found that the level of algae is thrice the amount considered safe. Joseph Miner of the Utah Department of Health said that the hepatotoxins and neurotoxins produced by the tiny plants can affect the nervous system and impair liver function.

Satellite imagery revealed Tuesday that the bloom has taken over about 90 percent of the lake. Scot Chipman, head of the Utah Water Ski Club, said he saw many algae bloom in his 30-year-long career but none of them were as severe as the one currently infesting the main lake.

Chipman added that he had been on the lake on Sunday and noticed nothing unusual. But on Tuesday, the bloom exploded. It was so thick that his boat could barely advance, had a bluish hue, and a “horrid” smell.

The man hadn’t seen a toxic algae bloom before, but his gut feeling told him that the algae were trouble from the way they looked and smelled.

Authorities started collecting water samples Wednesday. Experts at Utah Department of Environmental Quality cautioned that the lake waters bear neurotoxins even though algae may not be visible to the naked eye.

Authorities explained that the dangerous toxins can outlive algae for several days. Though it is normal to have some algae in a freshwater sources, algal blooms are dangerous. According to a statement released by the department, algal blooms can become a perfect environment for blue-green algae to thrive.

These “algae” are in fact a class of bacteria scientifically dubbed cyanobacteria which release toxins that can sicken wildlife, humans, livestock and fish. If a human is cyanotoxin poisoned he or she can be affected by nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, stomach pain and even allergies if there was skin contact with the bacteria.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food urge farmers not to use water from the lake to irrigate their crops or water livestock until new lab tests will prove that the water is safe to use.
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