Public health and natural resources officials in Vermont say beach closures and the deaths of two dogs underscore the reasons for concern over cyanobacteria, which can be found in water under certain conditions.
Monday, the Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department closed the cove at Oakledge Park to swimmers, because of a suspected cyanobacteria bloom. Cyanobacteria blooms are made up of microorganisms, sometimes called blue-green-algae, that can produce harmful toxins.
Friday, the city’s busy North Beach was closed for a day after another suspected bloom of cyanobacteria.
“At the first sighting of it, we like to pull people out of the water right away,” said Alec Kaeding, the beach manager for the Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department, describing how the city aims to be cautious and proactive dealing with reports of cyanobacteria.
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Also Monday, state officials confirmed two dogs that recently died in Stowe were poisoned by toxins from cyanobacteria.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources told necn that two small breed dogs, an adult and a puppy, fell ill and died after swimming in a pond on private property in Stowe. Their owner contacted the state in mid-June, the agency said.
Testing discovered toxins in the dogs’ stomachs that matched cyanobacteria collected from the pond water.
The Natural Resources Agency said the private pond area has since been fenced off, so other dogs can’t access it. Additionally, its owners are working with a water services company on a solution, the agency told necn.
“I really feel for this family and their pets,” said Lori Fisher of the Lake Champlain Committee.
Fisher, who works to educate people about cyanobacteria, said shallow water, high temperatures, and calm weather can help the organisms grow, especially when they’re fed by nutrients that wash into the water from land.
“Cyanobacteria blooms can happen anywhere,” Fisher noted. “They can happen on [Lake Champlain], and they can happen on private ponds—and that was the location for these dog deaths.”
While the Natural Resources Agency said health emergencies or problems like the dog deaths are quite rare in Vermont, adding that the state is highly-regarded for its water quality, resources including a Vermont Health Department website can help people recognize, avoid, and report cyanobacteria.
“I think the best practice is, ‘When in doubt, stay out,’” said Bridget O’Brien of the Vermont Health Department. “Know what to look for when you’re looking for cyanobacteria, and if you think you see it, stay away.”
As for Alec Kaeding, he will be back at the cove at Oakledge Park mid-morning Tuesday, checking to see if it’s safe to reopen the water there.