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Other Opinion: Beware of danger lurking in lakes

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A hot day, a cool lake and a chance to take a swim.

That could all add up to danger, especially for your dog, if you’re not paying attention to what’s in the lake.

Last week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sent out a warning to be on the lookout for harmful algae blooms on lakes and rivers around the state because of the hot weather recently.

The blooms may contain toxic algae, which can be harmful to both people and animals. Blooms typically begin to form in hot, calm weather.

According to pollution experts, you can’t tell by looking at algae if it’s toxic. It may look like pea soup, green paint, or floating mats of scum, and it will sometimes have a bad smell. But harmful blooms aren’t always large and dense and can sometimes cover small portions of the lake with little visible algae present.

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The MPCA’s advice: Take a close look at the water and the shoreline before diving in, to try to determine if a bloom recently happened.

“If it looks and smells bad, don’t take a chance. We usually tell people: If in doubt, stay out,” said Pam Anderson, MPCA water quality monitoring manager. “If you’re not sure, it’s best for people and pets to stay out of the water.”

If you do come in contact with blue-green algae, wash off with fresh water immediately, paying special attention to the areas your swimsuit covers, Anderson added. Also, rinse off pets with fresh water, too, and keep them out of algae that has accumulated on shore.

People can become sick from swallowing or having skin contact with water that has toxic algae, or by breathing tiny droplets of water in the air. In most people, symptoms are mild and may include vomiting, diarrhea, rash, eye irritation, cough, sore throat, and headache.

It’s even more hazardous for dogs. They’re more likely than people to get sick or even die after contact with harmful algae blooms, in part because they are smaller. Dogs are also more willing to wade into lakes with algal scum, the MPCA noted.

Dogs tend to swallow water while swimming, and lick their coats afterwards, swallowing algae on their fur. Dogs exposed to blue-green algae can experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, rash, difficulty breathing, general weakness, liver failure, and seizures.

If your dog has symptoms after visiting a lake, seek veterinary care immediately. Several dog deaths in the state have been attributed to toxic algae, according to the MCPA.

New resources are available for local governments. “Some cities, counties, or even resorts with popular beaches on lakes that are prone to harmful algae blooms may wish to test for toxic algae during the summer season,” the MPCA said in a news release.

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The MPCA recently developed guidance and tools to help beach managers choose monitoring strategies and communicate with users about limiting their risk of exposure to harmful algae blooms. Learn more on the MPCA’s website, Harmful algae blooms: Water recreation advisories page.

Also, if you suspect your dog or someone in your family was sickened by toxic algae, report it by going to the Minnesota Department of Health’s Harmful Algal Blooms page.

The MPCA said the key to solving algae problems is to improve overall water quality by reducing how much phosphorus gets into lakes from urban and agricultural runoff and wastewater treatment systems.

Matt Erickson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 2000 as a reporter, covering crime and courts and the city of Brainerd. In 2012 he was promoted to night editor and in 2014 was promoted to editor of the newspaper.
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