The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department and the city of Wheeling are asking residents to use caution after blue-green algae was found in water samples taken from the Ohio River.
According to a health department news release, water testing on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at the Pike Island Lock and Dam on the Ohio River showed elevated levels of blue-green algae. The algae, at high concentrations, can cause health problems such as skin irritation, eye irritation or intestinal illnesses.
As a result, the health department and water treatment plant is urging residents to use caution when swimming, boating, fishing, or doing other recreational water activities in the Ohio River this weekend.
Public drinking water supplied from the Wheeling Water Department, including the Ohio County Public Service District, is being closely monitored, according to the release.
“People can be exposed to the blue-green algae in two ways — either by contact with the skin or by swallowing it,” said Howard Gamble with the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. “The basic message for this weekend is, if you see blue-green algae floating in the river, avoid swimming, jet skiing or any other water activity where you might come into contact with it.”
Anyone who may be experiencing symptoms related to exposure to blue-green algae, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, muscle weakness, or difficulty breathing, is urged to contact their health care provider, particularly if they have been in contact with Ohio River water.
Other tips to avoid becoming ill from contact with blue-green algae include:
◦ Taking a bath with warm, soapy water after swimming in water that may be contaminated.
◦ Don’t drink, cook or shower with contaminated water.
◦ Don’t let your pet drink or swim in contaminated water.
◦ Use extra caution when children are near contaminated water, as they are more likely to swallow water.
Blue-green algae, also known as Cyanobacteria, are a group of photosynthetic bacteria that many people refer to as "pond scum." It is most often blue-green in color, but can also be blue, green, reddish-purple or brown. Blue-green algae generally grow in lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams when the water is warm and enriched with nutrients like phosphorus or nitrogen.
In certain conditions, blue-green algae can grow very quickly in number. Most species are buoyant and will float to the surface, where they form scum layers or floating mats.
Algae blooms can be the result of agricultural fertilizer runoff, sewage overflows and other pollution issues. Some factors that can contribute to algae blooms include sunlight; low-water or low-flow conditions; calm water;warmer temperatures; and excess nutrients (phosphorus or nitrogen).
The primary sources of nutrient pollution are runoff of fertilizers, animal manure, sewage treatment plant discharges, storm water runoff, car and power plant emissions and failing septic tanks.
For more information, contact the Wheeling Ohio County Health Department at (304) 234-3682 or the WheelingWater Treatment Plant at (304) 234-3835.