By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — The state has declared Lake Attitash safe once again after recent tests found reduced levels of blue-green algae, giving residents the go-ahead to return to the water just in time for this weekend’s annual boat parade.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the state also announced that it is ending its weekly monitoring of the lake, meaning future blooms of the dangerous bacteria could go unnoticed.
The Lake Attitash Association made the announcement on Wednesday, saying the water sample taken from the state boat ramp in Merrimac met the state Department of Public Health’s safety guidelines for the second week in a row, allowing the state to lift its advisory urging residents to stay out of the water.
The most recent bloom of blue-green algae was first detected back in mid-July, and subsequent water tests since then found stubbornly high algae readings, dragging out the latest advisory for nearly half the summer.
Blue-green algae — or cyanobacteria as it’s known scientifically — is known to produce toxins that can be harmful to humans and pets, and it has been a persistent scourge for residents of Lake Attitash for many years. The algae was first reported on the lake in 2009, and since 2010 the lake has been routinely monitored on a weekly basis by the state, according to DPH spokeswoman Anne Roach.
The funds used to monitor Lake Attitash and four other lakes in Massachusetts came from a grant awarded to the state by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roach said Massachusetts was one of 10 states to receive the grant, and this year the state received $140,000 for the program. But the five-year agreement was set to end in September of this year, and the CDC decided not to renew the program.
The end of the weekly monitoring also means the end of the state advisories, but not necessarily to the risk blue-green algae can pose. According to the DPH, exposure to high enough concentrations of blue-green algae can result in skin, ear and eye irritations and, if ingested, it can also cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses as well.
While advisories have technically not resulted in the closure of the lake to visitors, the Lake Attitash Association has strongly urged people to stay out of the water when advisories have been in place. With the weekly monitoring coming to an end, the Lake Attitash Association is asking its residents to keep an eye out and report any blooms that may pop up.
“Anyone suspecting a cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Attitash should email the Lake Attitash Association at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the date, time and location of the observation,” the association recently wrote in an email to its members. “The association will forward the information to the appropriate DPH officials for follow up.”
Ron Klodenski, a spokesperson for the Lake Attitash Association, said there is some concern about the possible impact of an undetected blue-green algae bloom, but he added that blue-green algae is present in other lakes too, even though you don’t hear about it.
“That’s always a concern, but it’s not just Attitash, what about the rest of the state,” Klodenski. “They’ve only been testing five lakes, and there are hundreds, and who knows how many of those other lakes have the algae too.”
Regardless, the Lake Attitash Association is still seeking a method to combat the blue-green algae problem. Klodenski said the association believes an overabundance of phosphorous in the water is the main source of the problem, and the results of a long-awaited Environmental Protection Agency study should help to identify a solution.
That study has been in the works for more than a year, and Klodenski said his understanding is that budgetary issues are the reason for the study’s slow progress as well.
“Again it’s a budgetary thing. There is one person at the EPA who is doing this, along with 10 other projects,” he said. “It has been taking a long time, but it’s not the fault of the people who are actually doing it.”