For the second consecutive year, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Little Pond (also known as Sandy Pond) behind Veterans Memorial Middle School due to a blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond. Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals.
Jane Sawyer, supervisory environmental scientist with the DEM, said Wednesday a resident of the area noticed the condition and sent photos. In response, DEM tested the water and established the presence of the bloom.
Sawyer said she has received complaints “someone has spilled green paint in my pond.” That wasn’t the case at Little Pond where the bloom was green but not that intense.
Sawyer said the algae blooms that thrive on sunny, warm and long days and are driven by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water usually occur earlier in the summer. Not all cyanobacteria blooms are toxic.
She said the department has issued 11 advisories this year, which is slightly less than in 2018. However, she couldn’t say whether there has been a dropoff, as a result of a cut in funding the department has become more reliant on people reporting the condition. Sawyer urged people to call and send in photos when they believe they have spotted a bloom.
The advisory suggests all recreation, including swimming, fishing, boating and kayaking, should be avoided. People should not ingest water or eat fish from Little Pond. Pets can also be affected by exposure to the algal toxins and thus owners should not allow pets to drink or swim in the water. The advisory will remain in effect until further notice. The advisory last year was lifted on Nov. 7.
So far this year an advisory has not been issued for the largest of the city’s ponds, Warwick Pond. Blooms in Warwick Pond that some residents believed were attributable to projects undertaken by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation prompted the formation of Friends of Warwick Ponds that has taken an active role in opposing developments near ponds and promoting their preservation.
Blooms in Warwick Pond were recorded in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Skin contact with water containing blue-green algae commonly causes irritation of the skin, nose, eyes and/or throat. Common health effects associated with ingesting water containing algal toxins include stomachache, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Rarer health effects include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage and nervous system damage. Young children and pets are at a particular risk for health effects associated with algal toxins. People who have had contact with these ponds and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare provider.
If you come into contact with the water, rinse your skin with clean water as soon as possible and, when you get home, take a shower and wash your clothes. Similarly, if your pet comes into contact with the water, immediately wash your pet with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off its fur. Call a veterinarian if your animal shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, including loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a day or so after being in contact with water. People are cautioned that toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.
Sawyer said the toxic blooms could affect fish and animals indigenous to the pond.
To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact DEM’s Office of Water Resources at 401-222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov and, if possible, send a photograph of the reported algae bloom.