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Toxic Algae Spotted, Camp Bans Swimming

Every week in the summer at least 100 children come to the YMCA Camp Willson for seven days of hiking, horse-back riding and water activities. But on July 14, the appearance of blue-green algae on the campground's Silver Lake put a stop to swimming and boating. YMCA Central Ohio President John Bickley says the water was tested immediately and the results came back positive for toxins.

"We immediately closed the lake to all campers, boating and any water activities," Bickley says.

The Celina Water Treatment Plant, near Grand Lake St. Marys, tested the water again last week and the results came back clean, but the camp is waiting for another test to come back clean before re-opening the lake. Before the discovery of the algae, Bickley says about 15 campers came down with a rash. They haven't determined whether the lake's toxins caused it. No other ill-effects were reported, and the rashes have all been treated. Bickley also says the lake ban hasn't stopped swimming completely. "The kids have been very positive. We are actually busing the kids into the YMCA in Bellefontaine for swimming activities," Bickley says.

Silver Lake spans about 60 acres, which is very small in comparison to the afflicted Grand Lake St. Marys. But the size of a body of water doesn't have any effect on the appearance of toxic algae. In fact, the media relations coordinator for the Ohio EPA Heather Lauer says she's received many calls from parties who suspect their pond or lake has blue-green algae.

"Our response is based on what you're telling us, you could have an algal bloom, but we don't have the resources to sample all of the private ponds and lakes in the state," Lauer says.

The EPA's Inland Lakes Program Coordinator Linda Merchant-Masonbrink says they're concentrating on taking samples of the bodies of water where there are public beaches and where the water is used for drinking. One lake that tested clean for the most prevalent algal toxin was Indian Lake, which is about 30 minutes north of Camp Willson. The EPA is comparing Indian Lake with Grand Lake St. Marys to determine why one lake blooms, while the other does not. Lauer says algae needs sunlight, and nutrients, like phosphates that come from farm run-off or animal manure.

"In a lake like Grand Lake St. Marys where when you get run-off from farms, then you're going to see the conditions that we're seeing today. If you look at Indian Lake, that's a very agricultural watershed as well. But farmers in that area have been working on different techniques to minimize the amount of run-off from their land, so we're not seeing as much of the nutrients in Indian Lake. That could be the difference," Lauer says.

Merchant-Masonbrinks says it may be years before Grand Lake St. Mary's is completely clean of the nutrients that cause algae, but Brinkley says he expects campers in Bellefontaine to be back in Silver Lake by the end of the summer.

Jen Monroe, WOSU News.