Toxic al­gae makes early ap­pear­ance in har­bour

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MATTHEW VAN DON­GEN

Toxic blue-green al­gae has made an early ap­pear­ance in Hamil­ton Har­bour this year.

On the up­side, both city beaches in the har­bour are al­ready closed to swim­mers.

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials have con­firmed the pres­ence of the toxin-pro­duc­ing al­gae near the Bayfront Park boat launch and beach as well as at Pier 4 Park beach. Tests show con­cen­tra­tions of the toxin mi­cro­cystin at levels be­yond 10 parts per bil­lion, the thresh­old the city uses to is­sue a warn­ing.

It’s also likely al­gae is present near Pier 8, lo­cal mari­nas and west to the closed Waterfront Trail, said wa­ter qual­ity man­ager Eric Mathews. “This is ear­lier than we would nor­mally ex­pect,” he said, not­ing past alerts have typ­i­cally come in late July or Au­gust.

The city warn­ing is aimed par­tic­u­larly at boaters, wind­surfers and other reg­u­lar har­bour users who might reg­u­larly touch the wa­ter. Beach­go­ers should also avoid swim­ming in the har­bour — but Bayfront beach is al­ready per­ma­nently closed due to poor wa­ter qual­ity, while high wa­ter levels have closed Pier 4. Ingest­ing wa­ter con­tam­i­nated with the al­gae-pro­duced tox­ins is the great­est health risk, Mathews said, but com­ing into “in­ci­den­tal con­tact” with the pol­luted wa­ter could also cause skin ir­ri­ta­tion and itch­i­ness. If you do touch the wa­ter, try to quickly wash your hands, Mathews said.

Drink­ing the wa­ter could lead to di­ar­rhea, ab­dom­i­nal pain, headaches and fever. Any­one who ex­pe­ri­ences those symp­toms af­ter be­ing in con­tact with wa­ter in those ar­eas of the har­bour should call a doc­tor, says a city re­lease.

It’s not clear why the un­wel­come cyanobac­te­ria showed up early this year. But record rain and lake levels have con­trib­uted to more sewer over­flows into the har­bour, which pro­vides more nu­tri­ents for al­gae.

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