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Quebec's Famous Lakes Teeming With Blue-Green Algae

The bloom is a headache for the tourist industry and to owners of lake shore real estate who fear property values will fall with the rising pollution.
by Guillaume Lavallee
Montreal (AFP) July 24, 2007
Unsightly and potentially toxic, blue-green algae has infested Quebec's prized lakes, fed by fertilizers that keep summer home lawns plush and green and local residents and authorities fretting. With its half-a-million lakes, Quebec is nirvana to fishermen and boaters fleeing inner city stress for the peace and calm of summer cabins and mansions on the shores of cool lakes. But this summmer, a pall has fallen over this idyllic paradise and over the surface of many lakes in the form of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria.

Besides turning the lake surface a putrid shade of green, the pond scum or bloom, as cyanobacteria is also called, can be toxic, causing skin irritation on contact and liver or nervous system problems when swallowed.

The Quebec government has posted warnings on the Internet for 72 lakes and rivers people should not drink from -- three times the number from last year.

"For two weeks, they've been providing us with water for drinking and cooking. At the beginning of the summer it was bottled, but since last week it comes in tanker trucks," said Cowansville Mayor Arthur Fauteux, whose 12,500 citizens live some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Montreal.

Most of the polluted lakes in Quebec are resort areas where decades of growing human activity has battered ecosystems to the point of fragility.

"They've built houses and cut down trees to get better views of the lakes, they've replaced natural vegetation with lawns that need fertilizing. There are many factors that over the years have wrought a change in the quality of the lake waters," Department of Environment biologist Marc Simoneau told AFP.

Blue-green algae chiefly get their nourishment from phosphorous, which is rarely found in water but becomes abundant in the presence of fertilizer that washes off lawns and farms.

The bloom is a headache for the tourist industry and to owners of lake shore real estate who fear property values will fall with the rising pollution.

"You can be sure people think about that. That's one of the incentives that leads to a change in behavior and the reforestation of lake shores," said O'Donnell Bedard, mayor of Lac-St-Joseph, a town 30 minutes from Quebec.

The lake the town is named after became fodder for blue-green algae last year. The bloom forced local authorities to start thinking green: they banned fertilizers and offered 480 dollar grants to people to reforest the lake shore.

"Quebec is no more polluted than other regions around the world," David Bird, a cyanobacteria specialist with the University of Quebec, Montreal, told AFP.

"These precautions are the result of global awareness to the real danger of toxic cyanobacteria after all those people died in Caruaru, in Brazil."

In 1996, some 50 people at a blood dialysis center in Brazil died after getting injections of cyanobacteria contaminated water in their veins.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Study Finds Contaminated Water Reaching Florida's Offshore Keys
Athens GA (SPX) Jul 25, 2007
A new University of Georgia study finds that sewage-contaminated groundwater is reaching the offshore reefs of the Upper Florida Keys, possibly threatening corals and human health. "The widespread use of in-ground waste disposal through septic tanks and injection wells appears to be leading to the contamination of submarine groundwater even up to six miles offshore," said study author Erin Lipp, associate professor at the UGA College of Public Health. "When the contaminated groundwater mixes with surface water and reaches the reef, the corals as well as human health might be harmed."

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