Dangerous blue-green algae found in pond at popular Charlotte park, county warns

Toxic blue-green algae found in multiple ponds in Mecklenburg County

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - Blue-green algae has spewed a toxin into the pond at Charlotte’s popular Freedom Park, prompting government warnings to keep yourself, your kids and your pets from taking a dip.

“It’s hard to keep dogs out of the water, especially in this heat, but it’s what people need to do, and children,” Rusty Rozelle, water quality program manager for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, told the Observer Wednesday.

Storm Water Services workers also confirmed blue-green algae in Boardwalk Pond at Robbins Park in Cornelius and Belle Johnson Pond in Pineville in June, according to Rozzelle.

The Freedom Park pond was the only one where workers found a toxin release, he said, but such releases can happen on any given day, Rozzelle said.

Storm Water Services then alerts the owners of the ponds, who post the no-swim advisory signs, he said. Mecklenburg County owns Freedom Park, he said.

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Health website, no documented cases exist of people being sickened by the algae. Still, blue-green algae blooms “can produce chemicals that are toxic to animals and people who drink the untreated water,” according to the site.

TOXIN KILLED DOGS

Public concern about the algae heightened last year when the toxin killed three dogs in Wilmington, Rozzelle said. The toxin can kill anyone who ingests it, he said, although it is safe to fish in such ponds.

The concern prompted Mecklenburg officials to check 34 public ponds for the blue-green algae last August and September, according to Rozzelle.

Workers found the algae in eight of the ponds, which Storm Water Services decided to monitor again this year, including monthly sampling from June through October.

The county has thousands of ponds, Rozzelle said, all of them man-made and most all of them private. Many of the ponds date to “when people had cows,” he said.

BLAME THE WEATHER

Algae blooms occur naturally as water temperatures rise in spring and summer, Rozelle said.

And Charlotte has seen a record stretch of consecutive days at 90 degrees or above in July, a National Weather Service meteorologist said Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Charlotte tied for fifth on its all-time list of most consecutive days with a high temperature of 90 degrees or above, meteorologist Harry Gerapetritis of the NWS office in Greer, S.C., told the Observer.

HOW TO SPOT TOXIC ALGAE

Whether the algae has a bad smell or taste “is not a reliable indicator of the presence or absence of algal toxins in the water,” according to the N.C. Health Department.

One obvious way to know the algae bloom may be toxic is if you see large numbers of dead fish or waterfowl, Utah Department of Health officials said.

“Animals found dead may have algae around the mouth area or on the feet and legs, indicating possible ingestion of and contact with a toxic bloom,” according to the department’s website.

If you get a skin rash after being in the water, that’s another sign the algae is toxic, according to the Washington State Department of Health.