High toxin levels found in blue-green algae samples from Skaneateles Lake

Local News

Families in Syracuse are being told they shouldn’t currently worry about filling up a glass of water from their faucet, despite the discovery of blue-green algae in Skaneateles Lake.

The lake is a major source of drinking water for parts of Central New York, including Syracuse.

Based on test results available early Sunday morning, samples collected from a swimming pier and stairs nearby show what is considered high toxin levels. 

The DEC’s threshold for declaring an “elevated risk” in a body of water is 20 micrograms per liter of the toxin microcystin.

A sample from the pier near the shoreline of Skaneateles Lake showed 126 micrograms per liter in tests.

The sample taken from the stairs nearby showed about 171 micrograms per liter of microcystin.

Treating the water is a complicated process that is usually avoided since there’s a high risk of triggering the algae to release more toxins.

In most cases, the algae blooms dissipate on their own, without treatment.

As of 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said she had only heard unofficial reports that high levels of toxins were found, but that information had not yet come from a government agency.

In response, the mayor offered a statement, reassuring neighbors that the drinking water piped into homes is still considered safe:

“The city of Syracuse takes the safety of our drinking water supply extremely seriously. At this time, the blue-green algae blooms on Skaneateles Lake pose no threat to city water users. We are in contact with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Onondaga County Department of Health to monitor this situation, and we continue to perform tests throughout our system to determine if our supply has been affected.”

Mayor Miner says the multiple tests along with the location of the intake pipes contribute to her confidence in the drinking water.

“The pipes are thirty feet down on the bottom of a very deep lake. We have seen no traces of any algae or any of its impact,” said Mayor Miner.

Experts say the blue-green algae blooms are pooled on the water’s surface. So, people should not drink directly from the lake.

However, the public water system pulls water from deep within Skaneateles Lake, through treatment plants, where the water is being tested separately for signs of toxins.

The following information comes directly from the New York State Department of Health:

“If you are on a public water system, your drinking water is protected by your local water supplier to address possible contaminants, including blue-green algae and associated toxins. Public water systems are required to treat, disinfect, and manage drinking water for their customers. If contaminants are detected in your water supply above levels established to protect human health, you would be notified by your local water supplier and provided instructions.”

“People should never drink untreated surface water. If you are not on public water and use surface water for drinking, preparing food, cooking, and making ice, you are at risk of exposure to blue-green algae, algal toxins, and other common drinking water contaminants. Please contact your local health department. They can talk to you about developing another source of drinking water. Even if you are treating surface water yourself with water filtration, chlorine, ultraviolet (UV) light, or other treatment, your water is still not protected from blue-green algae and their toxins.

Drinking water with high levels of blue-green algal toxins has been associated with effects on the liver and on the nervous system in laboratory animals, pets, livestock, and people.”

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