Environment

Vermont beaches close due to toxic bacteria

Beaches along Lake Champlain closed Wednesday due to an outbreak of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria on Lake Champlain in Vermont. Blooms of cyanobacteria typically look like small, murky particles that collect on the surface of the water, turning it green or blue. Vermont Department of Health

Several Vermont beaches faced closures Wednesday due to blooms of a potentially toxic bacteria in the water. 

Burlington’s busy North Beach, among other surrounding areas, barred beachgoers from entering the cool water, although temperatures soared into the mid-90s, due to the side effects caused by an outbreak of cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, is a naturally occurring specimen in fresh bodies of water such as Vermont’s Lake Champlain and some Massachusetts rivers. It can be toxic upon direct contact with humans or animals, and it is most dangerous to children and pets. 

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Side effects of cyanobacteria contact include rashes, diarrhea, and vomiting. In severe cases, touching or swallowing the bacteria can cause abdominal or liver damage.

During the summer, the Burlington Department of Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront conducts tests at local beaches for cyanobacteria daily and tests for E. coli biweekly.

Cyanobacteria’s presence can be attributed to soaring temperatures, among other natural factors, as New England’s heat wave persists.

“It’s not only the nutrients that feed cyanobacteria, it’s also temperatures, and when you have these high temperatures — and temperatures are on the rise with climate change — this is a local effect of that global issue,” Lori Fisher, the executive director of the Lake Champlain Committee told NBC Boston. 

Blooms of cyanobacteria typically look like small, murky particles that collect on the surface of the water, turning it green or blue. Possible sightings of cyanobacteria can be reported to the Vermont Department of Health in an online form, and are stored in a daily tracker.

Cyanobacteria blooms usually last for about 24 hours, but the heat can extend their stay. For beaches to safely reopen, a drop in temperature may be necessary.

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Erin Moreau, the waterfront superintendent for Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront, told NBC Boston that to clear the stubborn particles, the city may need natural factors “including cooler air, wind, and even some rain.”

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