Toxic blue-green algae found in Cape Fear River

Published: Aug. 7, 2014 at 2:58 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2014 at 3:37 AM EDT
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Looking north from Lock and Dam #1. (Source: WECT)
Looking north from Lock and Dam #1. (Source: WECT)
Looking south Lock and Dam #1. (Source: WECT)
Looking south Lock and Dam #1. (Source: WECT)

BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The same type of toxic algae that caused the City of Toledo, Ohio to ban residents from using its water has been found in the Cape Fear River, north of New Hanover and Brunswick County water intake sites.

UNC Wilmington Biology Professor Larry Cahoon was alerted of a bloom of microcystis, the same blue-green algae that polluted Toledo's water supply, north of the Lock and Dam #1 on the Cape Fear River.

Both New Hanover and northern Brunswick Counties have water intake systems in the affected area, but CFPUA spokesperson Mike McGill said their water supply is not at risk because of their advanced water treatment system.

"We have an advanced filtration system that includes o-zone and biologically active carbon filters that actually kill the algae, and remove it from our system," McGill explained.

Glenn Walker the Water Resource Superintendent for Brunswick County said their system also treats for the toxins.  He said toxins are initially hit with Chlorine Dioxide then, if sensors pick up on the microcystis they are also treated with carbon.

Cahoon said he and his colleagues saw preliminary signs of the algae over the last 12 days, but it wasn't until Tuesday that an ACOE staff member at the Lock and Dam #1 sent him a photo with what he called, "obvious surface scums."

According to Cahoon, there have been blooms of the toxic algae in the summers of 2009-2012, none last summer, and now this bloom.

Cahoon said it is possible for blooms not to produce toxins but they usually do under certain conditions. While this bloom is still being tested, due to the fact that it is in a similar spot and under similar conditions as blooms in previous years, he says it highly likely the bloom secretes toxins.

"Studies of the 2012 bloom found multiple toxins were present, some that had never been described before," Cahoon explained.

Cahoon said drinking water systems can treat for this issue, so our water supplies are safe to drink. He went on to say that it's wise for system managers to know about it since it seems to be a recurring problem in the Cape Fear River.

He said that if you see a bloom you shouldn't swim near it, drink the water or let your pets drink the water. He also said there are major concerns when it comes to how the algae can impact the river.

"This is not normal, this has been happening recently but it's a sign the river is sick and that's not a good thing," said Cahoon. "There is a potential for an altered food chain as a consequence of that if you are poisoning parts of the food chain then the food chain isn't going to work properly."

He said that he and his students are going to continuing doing tests, trying to find out what the cause is.

"None of this is good, it's a bad toxin to have in the water. It's a bad algae to be blooming in the river and we need to get to the root cause of that if we can," Cahoon said.

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