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Utah Lake 'Pond Scum" Is Toxic, State Finds

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Environmental officials have confirmed that levels of toxic algae are elevated at Utah Lake. But they say ordinary activities are fine as long as people steer clear of the bright blue-ish green blooms.

Water tests came back on Thursday showing some of the pond scum on Utah Lake has reached worrisome levels. Environmental officials tested the blue green algae near the Lindon Marina on Monday, after they heard that a dog that had been playing in it died Sunday.

Carl Adams oversees the watershed protection program at the Utah Division of Water Quality, and he says there’s a good way to avoid the cyanotoxin that killed the dog.

“If you see icky water, stay away from it,” says Adams. “Common sense, really, that if the water does not look good, it probably isn’t and you should probably limit your contact with it.”

Environmental scientists tested the algae for several types of toxic bacteria. The results showed a cyanotoxin called microsystin at 11 parts per billion. Utah does not have its own standards for it. But microsystin levels between 6 and 14 in some other states trigger health advisories.

People exposed to too much of the toxic bacteria are most likely to get itchy skin, a headache, fever, diarrhea or difficulty breathing.

But the toxin can make animals sick enough to die. Adams says microsystin can be found in lakes everywhere, and the trouble starts when runoff from fertilizers and other sources pump too much phosphorous into the water.

“But the concern becomes when the concentrations get high enough,” Adams says, “and currently the weather conditions here in northern Utah are such that it’s very conducive to algae bloom where you have these thick sheens or mats of algae.”

One way the state has tried to prevent against these blooms is by limiting the phosphorous content in detergent.

The Utah County Health Department has teamed up with the stateDivision of Wildlife Resources to post advisories around Utah Lake before the weekend.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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