Following Beach Closures, Vt. Health Officials Urge Awareness of Cyanobacteria

The microorganisms can cause health problems, Vermont's health commissioner warns

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Swimmers in Vermont's largest city were crestfallen Thursday after a natural, but possibly dangerous, substance was spotted near the shore of Lake Champlain — closing a busy beach for the day.

Health and environmental experts are now urging people in Burlington and beyond to read up on cyanobacteria.

"We're definitely disappointed," said Tessa Santarpia of Buffalo, New York, who was visiting Burlington's North Beach when it was temporarily closed to swimmers Thursday.

The beach has been placed on pause for swimming a few times in the past week because of cyanobacteria blooms in the water, according to tweets from the Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department.

"It's been pretty upsetting we haven't been able to swim all week," lamented Mary Kate Comer, Santarpia's friend.

Now, the Vermont Department of Health is urging folks to learn more about the microorganisms, sometimes called blue-green-algae, that can become harmful.

"It can cause skin rashes, diarrhea, sore throat, stomach problems, or more serious health concerns," Vermont's health commissioner, Dr. Mark Levine, said earlier this week about cyanobacteria.

As NECN reported in 2019, after two dogs in Stowe died, toxins found in their systems matched cyanobacteria from a private pond there.

Because of that kind of possible impact, the state is pointing folks to this health department website, where they can get tips on recognizing the bacteria, and where they can report suspected trouble spots.

"Be especially careful with small children and dogs who may drink or lick the water," Dr. Levine cautioned.

Lori Fisher, a clean water advocate and executive director of the Lake Champlain Committee, urged Vermonters to consider also using this site to sign up for her organization's weekly reports containing results from cyanobacteria monitoring and other information on water conditions.

"We're in a time period where, because of nutrient loading, because of a warming climate, we are seeing a greater incidence of cyanobacteria, and we need to be able to recognize it, avoid it, and report it — keep people safe," Fisher told NECN Thursday.

As for Santarpia and Comer, they were still making the most of their relaxing day by lounging in the grass at North Beach, even though they did not go swimming.

"I hope it gets cleared up soon for the next travelers that come through here," Santarpia said of the cyanobacteria spotted in Lake Champlain.

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