AUSTIN, Texas — Austin police are reminding residents and their pets not to swim in or drink from Lady Bird Lake after blue-green algae was discovered this month.
The City of Austin closed Red Bud Isle on Wednesday as a precaution after three dogs who swam in the lake died.
The cause of those deaths has not been confirmed and preliminary tests showed low to zero levels of the harmful neurotoxins produced by the blue-green algae.
While warnings about the potentially harmful algae have focused on pets, people are also urged to stay out of the water. Swimming in the lake is already prohibited, but should people kayaking or paddleboarding fall in, they are advised to rinse off thoroughly.
While any potential risk could affect humans, pets are particularly at risk because they are more likely to drink the water or lick their fur after swimming in the lake.
According to a press release from the City on Friday, two samples of algae taken at Red Bud Isle show low levels. But the toxin was not found in any of the water samples or in other algae samples. And, at Lady Bird Lake, sampling has shown that much of the algae in the area are harmless at this time.
City leaders said samples of water and algae were taken from eight locations on Lady Birdy Lake, with additional samples taken at the Walsh Boat Ramp on Lake Austin and downstream of Longhorn Dam.
At this time, officials believe the toxin appears to be localized near Red Bud Isle, which remains closed. Signs have been placed in the area since Sunday evening as a warning to pet owners.
Though levels may appear harmless at Lady Bird Lake, officials said the algae can move so people should continue to minimize their exposure to the water and avoid all contact with algae. Thus, pet owners should continue to keep their pets out of the water.
Experts took more algae samples Friday at the mouth of Barton Creek to identify the type of algae there. Algae that can produce toxins can only be identified through laboratory testing.
Algae, including blue-green algae, is naturally occurring and not uncommon to be found in Austin's lakes. It tends to be more abundant near the shore and in areas with low water flow. City leaders said they have never been aware of the neurotoxins produced by blue-green algae having an effect at Lady Bird Lake.
Staff at Watershed Protection tests Lady Bird Lake nine times out of the year for possible pollutants, water chemistry and other water quality indicators. This includes testing sediments found at the bottom of the lake once a year. Based on the current blue-green algae event, staff will be working on a new testing protocol to continue monitoring algal toxicity on Lady Bird Lake.
Drinking water remains unaffected by the situation, and there are no concerns for drinking quality at this time. Austin Water does not currently use Lady Bird Lake as a drinking source.
Dogs who have ingested the blue-green algae toxin could have any of the following symptoms, which could lead to respiratory paralysis or death:
- Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
- Foaming at the mouth
- Jaundice, hepatomegaly
- Blood in urine or dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Photosensitization in recovering animals
- Abdominal tenderness
- Progression of muscle twitches
- Respiratory paralysis
In people, the possible symptoms may be:
- Dermatologic signs or symptoms such as rash, irritation, swelling, or sores
- Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
- Respiratory signs or symptoms
- Neurologic signs or symptoms
- Ear symptoms
- Eye irritation
Austin Public Health said it has not received any reports of treating people related to exposure to the water but it will continue to monitor that. If people or pets come into contact with the water they are urged to rinse off – and seek medical attention if any of the symptoms above occur.
Anyone with questions or concerns is asked to call 311 or 512-974-2000. More information can be found here.
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