Two freshwater lakes in Monmouth County, and one in Burlington, are among nine identified freshwater spots inflicted with harmful algal blooms (HABs) since summer began, say New Jersey environmental officials who are urging people to take a role in minimizing health risks for humans and animals.

Freshwater harmful algal bloom (NJ Dept. Environmental Protection)
Freshwater harmful algal bloom (NJ Dept. Environmental Protection)

Deal Lake in Deal, Fletcher Lake in Bradley Beach and Pemberton Lake in Pemberton Township were identified between July 18 and August 11, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Bodies of water in Sussex, Essex, Mercer and Hunterdon Counties were identified in instances of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae infestation, dating back to June 20. Lakes, rivers and streams are vulnerable.

We're not by ourselves in this. DEP officials say that more than 30 states have also developed response strategies, and cite U.S. Geological Survey data that indicates cyanobacteria health advisories in 19 states since August 2016.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)'s Avoid It and Report It strategy relies on people to use its toll-free hotline, 1-877-WARN-DEP (927-6337), or the WARN NJDEP app on smart devices or tablets to report suspected cyanobacteria growths.

The DEP's new HAB website presents coordinated data and response efforts, constructed in collaboration with the state Departments of Health and Agriculture.

DEP officials say that most algal blooms are harmless, and normally result from an abundance of nutrients. Cyanobacteria, usually bright green, sometimes appearing as spilled paint or resembling pea soup and oftenwith a thick surface coating, form under conditions of bright sunlight, warm temperatures, and stagnant or calm water.

Officials say that they don't always produce toxins, but when they do, ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact can result in skin rashes and illnesses for people, pets, livestock, and wildlife.

Symptoms, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), can include abdominal pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting, nausea, dry cough, diarrhea, mouth-area blisters and pneumonia for exposure to Microcystin-LR.

Symptoms of exposure to Cylindrospermopsin include fever, headache, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea.

Algae warning (NJ Dept. Environmental Protection)
Algae warning (NJ Dept. Environmental Protection)

Exposure to the Anatoxin-a group can lead to tingling, burning, numbness, drowsiness, slurred speech salivation and respiratory paralysis leading to death.

DEP says that other symptoms can include gastroenteritis, eye irritation, conjunctivitis, neurological issues and liver toxicity.

If you spot a potentially harmful algae bloom, environmental officials recommend several steps:

  • Avoid contact with water in and around the growth area.
  • Don't drink the water or eat fish caught in the body of water where the bloom exists.
  • Keep pets and livestock away from the tainted water.
  • Don't let animals drink it, eat dried algae, or groom themselves if they come into contact with it.
  • If contact is established, rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible
  • Seek medical or veterinary attention if reactions develop.

State environmental regulators are also working with operators of drinking water systems to plan for HAB infestations and other potable water emergencies.

The response strategy includes reporting procedures, information assigning response to designated agencies and steps to be taken, setting of recreational risk thresholds, monitoring and analysis methods, advisory language and a research system.

The DEP's HAB site contains information on freshwater cyanobacterial harmful algae blooms and marine water types, a reporting form, downloadable advisory signs and flyers, and fact sheets describing the bacteria and the health effects.

You can email specific questions about the harmful algal bloom strategy, or call the DEP Bureau of Freshwater and Biological Monitoring, 609-292-0427.

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