Algae from parts of Clay County’s Doctors Lake had toxin levels higher than many researchers consider safe for swimming, test results posted online by state officials show.
The samples were collected last week, and scientists are waiting for results from more sampling done Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday.
Test results from other parts of Doctors Lake seemed safer. People are still free to swim or fish as they please, but a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health urged them to avoid areas with algae.
“Because it is impossible to tell by sight or smell if algae is toxic, it is best to avoid coming into contact with any algae,” said the spokeswoman, Mara Gambineri.
Toxin levels varied widely between five spots in Doctors Lake that were tested July 12. The highest count, from water collected at the boat ramp, was almost six times higher than measurements from the lake’s center.
Three of the five results were higher than a draft standard – four micrograms per liter –the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed in December to be a safe cutoff level for a type of toxin called microcystins produced by harmful algae blooms. A sixth sample, also with microcystin levels above the EPA’s draft threshold, came from Swimming Pen Creek, which feeds into the lake.
Microcystins can be harmful to a person’s liver, while other toxins in algae blooms can affect kidneys or irritate the skin or gastrointestinal system.
Algae is a recurring warm-weather presence in Doctors Lake, but buildups of algae there can disrupt summer traditions.
The Boy Scouts’ St. Johns River Base at Echockotee stopped allowing swimming except in the camp’s pool until managers could learn whether the lake was safe to use.
“It definitely put a hurt on our program,” ranger Frank Geer said while he waited this month for the results.
The tests, done the week before the other sites, did not find any microcystin problems, but Geer said the Scouts had no choice but to make the safe choice.
“Some people understand and some people don’t that it’s a health issue,” he said. ”Our main concern is the health and safety of our kids.”
The test results are troubling enough that people should be warned, said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, who wanted the Department of Health or Department of Environmental Protection to post an advisory cautioning people.
That hadn’t happened by late Thursday, but Rinaman said she would keep making her case.
“With the weekend coming, more and more people are in harm’s way with no official warning,” Rinaman said by email.
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