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Blue-green algae bloom at Emerson Park

The swimming area in Emerson Park shows signs a of blue-green algae bloom in August 2014.

For the third day in a row, both the city of Auburn and town of Owasco's treated drinking water has not had detectable levels of blue-green algae toxins, according to the Cayuga County Health Department.

There have been approximately three weeks of testing the treated water for both systems, and Eileen O'Connor, director of the county's Environmental Health division, said toxin levels in the untreated water have also shown a decline over the last couple of days.

The health department said it had collected samples from both water systems Friday and would have results of those tests by Monday. Samples will be taken less frequently, "unless conditions warrant otherwise," according to a release.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Harmful Algal Blooms Notifications Page, reports are still showing a large, localized algae bloom that has been confirmed with high toxins on Owasco Lake. The bloom was reported on Oct. 3, and has not changed its status since the DEC updated its web page on Friday. The toxin, called microcystin, can be released from blue-green algae after it dies. 

In September, water treatment operators saw the scum floating into their plants. That instigated a series of protocols including testing of the raw and treated water, adding powder activated carbon to the water and increasing the amount of disinfectant used.

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Operators have been able to decrease the amount of toxins found in the treated water substantially, though over the last few weeks, levels in the treated water have fluctuated. While these latest tests have not shown any toxins, which when ingested can cause liver failure and kidney damage, O'Connor said both Auburn and Owasco have contingency plans should the treated water have toxins that reaches the health advisory levels of 0.3 micrograms per liter for children under 6, as suggested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

If toxin levels ever reached that 0.3 micrograms per liter, O'Connor said the department would advise residents not to drink the water.

"The city of Auburn and the town of Owasco will likely obtain bulk water tankers and strategically place them at locations in the area," she said. "We know that they are prepared to take those steps in the event that the health department advises the public not to drink the water if the levels rise to that level of concern."

So far levels have stayed between non-detectable and .22 micrograms per liter, levels that are not considered a public health concern.

For more information on blue green algae, visit cayugacounty.us/health or call (315) 253-1560 for assistance.

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Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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