Blue-Green Algae at Vancouver Lake
July 12th a warning was posted for higher than normal levels of toxins (microcystin only) on the east side of Vancouver Lake. Racing and the venue are on the west side of the lake where levels were below the warning level. Because safety is our highest priority here are some FAQ’s.
What is the problem?
Algae, especially blue-green algae, can contain cyanobacteria which can turn into toxins. Toxins like the one in this warning, over time, can accumulate and cause liver damage. Extended contact with contaminated water can cause skin irritation. Ingesting (think mouthfuls, not getting splashed) may cause nausea, diarrhea and or vomiting but these are rare. It is always possible that any exposure may cause these symptoms.
Why the warning?
An overabundance of caution. The biggest concern is children drinking the water near shore where concentrations are typically highest. The State of Washington uses a formula to determine a safe maximum level of toxins. This formula based on a 33-pound child drinking 1.7 ounces of water from the lake. The Washington State health department calculation for a safe level is 12 micrograms per liter (12 parts per million) so they set the threshold for warnings for half of that, 6 micrograms per liter. Using the same calculation, a 132 pound adult would need consume ½ of a liter for the same effect. Ingesting things that you shouldn’t, no matter what they are, can be dangerous.
When is the lake checked?
Every Monday with the results made public Friday. It is checked on the east and west sides.
Who is affected?
Kids and small animals are the most likely to be affected because they are in the water close to shore where levels are highest. Adults with liver problems are at a higher risk. People with compromised immune systems could also be at higher risk. Since people have different tolerance levels the effects will be different for each person. Some might get a rash if they don’t rinse off. In very rare cases lake water will cause diarrhea or vomiting. If you have liver problems, sensitive skin or compromised immune systems, and you are not sure if you will be affected, please consult with a medical professional before participating.
What are you doing about it?
The safety of the participants is our highest priority. We monitor the levels of toxins closely. For the next three weeks we are doing independent testing of the race course and dock area. We will have showers available for participants to rinse off after each race. It is common practice in all water sports to shower after exposure to the water.
What should I do about it?
First, don’t drink the water you paddle in. If you like to scoop up a big handful of water when you are practicing then you should take a bottle of water on the boat with you (it’s free). Rinse off when you are finished and shower when you get back to the hotel or your house… Just like you do for practice. Wash your hands before you eat. Use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash. Use common sense and if you are not sure about these then do some research (I did) and if you think it could be a problem talk with a medical professional before participating.
Will the Health Department close the lake?
The criteria for closing the lake require a very high level of toxins paired with dead fish or animals. The executive director of the club at the lake can think of one time in the past 25 years the lake was closed.
What’s the bottom line?
We are taking every precaution to make sure the race is safe, fair and fun. The rowing and paddling club (VLAC) at the lake was not warned or advised to stop activities during the most recent warning. The Championship race in 2105 was held under a warning similar to this and no one reported any ill effects (related to the water). Rinse off after each race and don’t drink the lake water.
Keep Calm and Paddle On!
Jeff Campbell, Owner
Double Fifth Dragon Boating