Alarm as lake users ignore algae health risks

RECREATIONAL boaters, fishermen and swimmers are ignoring potentially harmful levels of blue-green algae in Camperdown’s Lake Bullen Merri, despite recent tests showing levels remain three times greater than the safe guideline. 

Camperdown Angling Club secretary Gary Cronin told The Standard on Thursday at least 80 people were enjoying the waters of the lake’s South Beach, while five speedboats were out on the water, despite warning signs featuring prominently around the foreshore and at boat ramps. 

Mr Cronin said with yesterday’s south-westerly winds, the southern and western sides of the lake were clear of any signs of algal bloom. “You wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with the water on this side today,” he said. 

“But the northern side of the lake is like a green sludge, it all depends on which way the wind is blowing.”

He said the signs erected by the Corangamite Shire in late November, after the first tests of the season returned a positive result, clearly state that anyone in contact with the lake could have health consequences. 

“If people don’t want to read the signs, there isn’t much you can do about it, you can’t physically force them off the water,” he said. 

“But if the wind was blowing the other way, people would be avoiding it for sure.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said exposure to blue-green algae may cause asthma-like symptoms and irritation of the skin, eyes, ears and nose in some people. 

“Everyone will have a different reaction, and people may not have any symptoms at all, but we do advise people to take heed of the warning signs. They are there for a reason,” the spokesman said. 

Corangamite Shire’s manager of environment and emergency Lyall Bond said while some people may not have any immediate symptoms, long term exposure may have adverse impacts, with certain types of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) affecting the liver. 

Mr Bond said there was no indication of when the lake will return to safe levels. 

“Council will continue to monitor the levels in the lake in the new year and will notify the public when the lake is again safe to use. 

“In the meantime we suggest people make use of some of the other lakes in the shire, including Lake Tooliorook in Lismore, Deep Lake in Derrinallum, Lake Purrumbete near Camperdown, or Boggy Creek.”

Mr Bond said council did have money set aside for a study into the cause of the algal blooms and what could be done to prevent them in the future. 

“Unfortunately we didn’t get any extra funding from the state government for that study, so it’s on hold for the moment,” he said.

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