WASHINGTON — Sen. Charles Schumer called on the EPA Wednesday to issue guidance and regulations to deal with blue-green algae that he said threatens nearly 100 lakes in upstate New York.
The algae, which releases toxic chemicals called cyanotoxins into the water, is becoming a larger problem in recent years, Schumer said.
“Over the past few years, we’ve noted these toxic algae blooms are becoming more widespread,” he said.
In the Southern Tier, according to Schumer’s office, several lakes have been affected by the algae, inlcuding:
- Goodhue Lake in Addison
- Loon Lake in Wayland
- Mud Lake in Prattsburgh
- Smith Pond in Avoca
- Cayuta Lake near Odessa
- Waneta and Lamoka lakes and the Lamoka Lake channel in Tyrone
That’s according to data from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for 2012-13.
Waneta and Lamoka, Schumer’s office noted, are sources of public drinking water.
The toxins threaten not only drinking water, but boaters and swimmers who come in contact with contaminated water.
The cyanotoxins can cause illness through skin contact alone – Schumer pointed to three recent reports from the federal Centers for Disease Control where a total of six New York residents were sickened through contact with cyanotoxins in water.
In 2009, Schumer’s office reported, 57 people in Wisconsin were sickened by contact with the algae toxins, and in the 1990s, 75 people in Brazil died from liver failure associated with drinking cyanotoxin-contaminated water.
The toxic water can also sicken or kill animals, they noted.
Schumer is asking the EPA to help local water treatment plants detect and remove the toxins from drinking water, which would require the agency to regulate cyanotoxins, something they haven’t done before, he said.
He’s also asking the agency to set criteria for the toxins in so-called “ambient” water – water that isn’t used for drinking – to protect recreational uses of lakes in New York.
He noted that lake and beach closures due to algae blooms can hurt tourism in affected areas.
Schumer said he’s also working on some of the root causes of the growing algae problem.
He blamed the increase in the blue-green algae blooms on farm runoff, which contains fertilizer that speeds algae growth; overflows from aging sewage systems around the state that feed the algae; and climate change, which he said has led to warmer, rainier springs which boost growth.
He noted that the new farm bill has made more than $1 billion in incentives available to farmers to reduce erosion and runoff from fields.
Schumer also said he’s continuing efforts to provide more federal money for sewer system upgrades.