Warden, a lab, swims in Merrymeeting Bay in Topsham earlier this month. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK– Two local bodies of water are on a watch list for a blue-green algal bloom, or cyanobacteria, that is dangerous to humans and potentially lethal to pets. 

Winnegance Pond in West Bath and Nequasset Lake in Woolwich are both rated as “low risk” by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, meaning that the blooms were only recorded once and that it is unlikely to happen again.

The bloom in Woolwich was in 1998, and the bloom in West Bath was more recent, in 2016, according to spokesperson David Madore. There are 122 Maine lakes and ponds on the department watch list, and several, like Sabattus Pond in Greene, Cross Lake in Wells, Sebasticook Lake in Newport and Georges Pond in Franklin are considered “high” or “very high risk,” and bloom annually or near annually. Not all algae is toxic. 

This blue-green alga is actually a form of bacteria known as cyanobacteria, photosynthetic microscopic organisms that are found in all lakes and are a natural part of a lake ecosystem, according to the DEP. 

Elevated nutrients in the water, especially phosphorus, warmer summer temperatures and torrential storms promote algae blooms, Madore said.  Phosphorus gets into a lake from overuse of fertilizers in the lake watershed, runoff from roads and ditches into lakes, building and clearing land within the shoreland zone and near tributaries to the lake, and failing septic systems.

A bloom may discolor the water, turning it blue-green, neon green or reddish-brown and make the water murky and foul-smelling. They are most common during warm weather. 

Cyanobacteria can be dangerous to humans, resulting in skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, fever and even liver damage, according to the World Health Organization, but can be even more poisonous to animals. 

The issue has been increasing in the South this summer, and started gaining attention earlier this month when a woman in North Carolina posted on Facebook that her three dogs had suddenly died just hours after swimming in a pond with the algae. 

Then, days later, a couple in Georgia reported that their dog started making strange noises just 30 minutes after getting out of the water. By the time they got her to the vet, she was brain dead, she wrote in her post. 

Another woman in Texas shared the same news, devastated by the loss of her golden retriever. Others have followed since. 

Erica Parthum, a veterinarian at Brunswick Veterinary Clinic said she has not seen any cases local to Brunswick, and has not heard of any from surrounding vets either. 

The clinic posted about the bacteria on its Facebook page, with a link to the DEP’s list of lakes and ponds, warning people to be on the lookout for contamination before letting their dogs swim. 

“Look for a … scum on the top of the water or a greenish-blue film,” Parthum said, and stay away from it. “It can happen very quickly.” 

Parthum advised owners to look out for a loss of energy and appetite, vomiting and neurological signs like stumbling and seizures. Any unexplained illness after swimming is cause for a phone call, she said, and recommended that owners spray their dogs off with a hose after swimming so they don’t accidentally ingest it while grooming. 

Madore said the department is still monitoring whether the incidences of toxic blooms are increasing, as they have been monitoring lake water quality since 1970, but only monitoring toxins for 10. Algal blooms in general though, are expected to increase, he said. 

“Maine has cleaner lakes than most of the country,” he said, and “warmer temperatures to the south are conducive to more algal growth in lakes, (but) with longer growing seasons in Maine leading to longer ice out periods and warmer water temperatures, we can expect to see the frequency of algal blooms increase.” 

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: