While results from the most recent water sample tests from Pontoosuc Lake reveal decreasing cyanobacteria levels, public health officials from the City of Pittsfield and the Town of Lanesborough continue to vigilantly monitor the expanding visual presence of blue-green algae and recommend that residents exercise caution when using the lake.

Cyanobacteria is aquatic bacteria which is found in blue-green algae; the visual presence of the algae does not necessarily correlate to the amount of bacteria in the algae. Recent test levels show that the bacteria is currently below the standard health-based threshold of 70,000 cells per milliliter which determines a public health risk.

The city’s Public Health Director Gina Armstrong says officials just want to ensure the public is kept informed of these vital updates. “We want to be proactive in sharing this information with the public so that they can make informed decisions as to their activities in the lake,” said Armstrong.

Since the visual presence of the algae was first observed at Pontoosuc in late July, Pittsfield city officials, the Town of Lanesborough, Friends of Pontoosuc Lake and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health have been monitoring water safety through weekly sampling of lake water for lab testing and analysis.

Contributing factors to the algae bloom increase include warmer temperatures and sunlight. Cyanobacteria levels in the current algae film covering most of the lake can potentially reach the toxicity threshold level and be harmful to humans, pets, and local wildlife.

The health effects depend on the duration of the exposure. Skin contact can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, throat and inflammation of the respiratory tract. Swallowing contaminated water can lead to nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

In severe cases, the liver and nervous system can be affected. Algae blooms can change the water’s appearance from slightly discolored to resembling pea soup or thick paint. Blooms frequently appear blue or green but could be another color, such as brown or red. A bloom’s toxicity cannot be determined visually.

Algae blooms can also give the water a bad odor or taste. Per recommendations from the local boards of health:

 Individuals and pets should not swim where the water is discolored or where foam or mats of algae are visible on the water’s surface.

 People should rinse off with fresh water immediately if they or their pet comes into contact with the water.

If they believe they or their pet are experiencing any adverse health effects, they should contact their doctor or veterinarian immediately.

For additional information, contact the Pittsfield Health Department at 413-499-9411 or email health@cityofpittsfield.org. To learn more about this algae, visit the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at www.mass.gov/dph/algae.

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