What are Harmful Algal Blooms and why should I be concerned?

Some types of algae can produce toxins that can be harmful to people and animals.  Algae blooms that produce toxins are known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).  Environmental conditions that contribute to the formation of HABs in bodies of water include excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), lots of sunlight, calm water conditions, and warmer temperatures.  

For the past few summers, harmful algal blooms have been identified in many Cayuga County lakes including Skaneateles, Cayuga, and Owasco Lakes.  In Cayuga County, Owasco Lake is the source of public drinking water for the City of Auburn, Town of Owasco, and surrounding municipalities who purchase their public drinking water from Auburn or Owasco; and Cayuga Lake is the source of water for Wells College and the Village of Aurora.  In addition, many residents use water drawn from these three lakes for their own private water supply.

In September and October of 2016, low levels of toxins, as a result of Harmful Algal Blooms, were found in the public drinking water produced by both the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco.  The toxin levels remained low enough, based on current research, that the water was safe for drinking.

The information provided in the following answers is based on current science from the New York State Department of Health, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.    

Show All Answers

1. What are Harmful Algal Blooms and why should I be concerned?
2. Can my children and pets play in the lake water if it is experiencing a Harmful Algal Bloom?
3. How soon after a bloom dissipates will it be safe to swim?
4. What health effects can I expect to see if I was recreating in lake water experiencing a bloom?
5. Have any health problems been reported by people after recreating in water bodies experiencing Harmful Algal Blooms?
6. What health effects may my pet experience if they were exposed to Harmful Algal Blooms?
7. What municipalities draw water from Owasco Lake and supply public drinking water?
8. What municipalities draw water from Cayuga Lake and supply public drinking water?
9. How is the public drinking water being monitored?
10. If toxins associated with Harmful Algal Blooms are in the public drinking water, is the water safe to drink?
11. What could the effects on my health be if I drink public drinking water with toxins associated with Harmful Algal Blooms above the levels set by the EPA?
12. I’m pregnant (or planning to be). Will consuming the public drinking water toxins effect my unborn child?
13. What can I safely use the public drinking water for if the toxins associated with Harmful Algal Blooms exceed levels set by the EPA?
14. If I live near a lake experiencing a Harmful Algal Bloom, is my private well water safe to drink, bathe, wash dishes, etc.?
15. If I draw my water directly from the lake experiencing a bloom, is my water safe to drink, bathe, wash dishes, etc.?
16. If a “do not drink” order is issued by the Cayuga County Health Department due to elevated toxins associated with a HAB in a public water supply, what can I safely use the public water for?
17. If a “do not drink” order is issued by the Cayuga County Health Department due to elevated toxins associated with a HAB in a public water supply, what should I use bottled water for?
18. How much bottled water should I store in preparation for an issued “do not drink” order?
19. How will I know the bottled water I am drinking is safe?
20. What symptoms should I be looking for if I or family members drink the water after a “do not drink” order is issued due to elevated toxins associated with a Harmful Algal Bloom in a public water?
21. What do Harmful Algal Blooms look like? How will I be able to identify these blooms if I am on the lake?
22. How will I know if a water body recently has experienced a Harmful Algal Bloom?
23. What should I do if I see a Harmful Algal Bloom on a body of water?
24. What causes Harmful Algal Blooms?
25. Are Harmful Algal Blooms caused by climate change, agriculture, or septic systems?
26. What preparations are being made within the City and the County to prevent toxins from getting into the public drinking water?
27. Do we have a back-up water source available and ready for distribution?
28. What is being done to prevent this from happening in future years?
29. Where can I find current information on Harmful Algal Blooms?
30. How will I be notified if toxins are identified in the drinking water?
31. Where will users of water (i.e. businesses, schools, hospitals and restaurants) be getting their water if a “do not drink” order is issued by the Cayuga County Health Department?