Toxic Algae Bloom Shuts Down Jamaica Pond

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Bostonians are being urged to stay away from Jamaica Pond due to a sudden overgrowth of toxic algae. Boston’s Public Health Commission is advising people to avoid contact with the water, or any area the algae concentrated on the shore.

The blue-green algae, a form of cyanobacteria, are so prevalent in the pond that some portions currently have a “pea soup” consistency. If the algae comes into contact with the skin or is ingested, it can cause irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, and, in extreme cases, organ damage or death. Residents are urged to be especially mindful of their pets, as they are prone to either eat pond scum or to try and lick any off their fur. Pet owners are cautioned to watch their companions for vomiting, staggering, drooling, or convulsions.

State health and environment officials are observing the water conditions and will be taking regular samples to monitor algae levels until the bloom subsides.

The exact cause of the algae bloom is not currently known, but in general they are caused by warm water temperatures combined with a sudden spike in available nutrition—mainly nitrogen and phosphorus. Common sources of these nutrients are usually related to farming discharge, fertilizer or run-off being washed into the water, or septic leaks. Regardless of cause, the result is a spectacularly dramatic increase in the number of algae that creates swaths of goo so large that some can even be viewed from space.

This current algae outgrowth is not the first bloom that Jamaica Pond has experienced. In 2006, a bloom of the non-poisonous Zygnema plankton clouded the water for a short period.

The last major algae bloom in the U.S. happened in Toledo, Ohio in August 2014. A toxic bloom in southern Lake Erie rendered the city’s water supply unusable for a weekend.

It is also believed that a 1961 mass death of seabirds that were poisoned by an algae bloom partially inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Helms, C., “Potentially Toxic Algae Bloom Closes Jamaica Pond,” Jamaica Plain News web site, July 21, 2015; http://www.jamaicaplainnews.com/2015/07/21/potentially-toxic-algae-bloom-closes-jamaica-pond/12699.
Koktsidis, A., “Toxic Algae Closes down Jamaica Pond,” BostonGlobe.com, July 21, 2015; https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/07/20/toxic-algae-closes-down-jamaica-pond/7SOkXP8GredS6py51qI38K/story.html.
Stidman, P., “Algae Blooms in Jamaica Pond,” Petestidman.com; http://www.petestidman.com/?q=node/67, last accessed July 21, 2015.
Tanber, G., “Toxin Leaves 500,000 in Northwest Ohio without Drinking Water,” Reuters web site, August 2, 2014; http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/02/us-usa-water-ohio-idUSKBN0G20L120140802.

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