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Officials warning residents to avoid Charles River due to high levels of bacteria

The bacteria bloom in the Charles River can pose health risks for people and their pets, the state warns.
Massachusetts Ave Bridge
Officials are warning of a dangerous bacteria bloom in the Charles River. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bostonians may love that “dirty water,” but state officials are warning residents to avoid areas of the Charles River after high levels of bacteria were found.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation says that people should avoid the Charles River Lower Basin in both Boston and Cambridge because of a cyanobacteria bloom.

“During a bloom, it is strongly advised that the public should not contact the water,” the department said in an advisory.

The affected area stretches between Longfellow and Harvard bridges and includes the riverfront by the Museum of Science.

Cyanobacteria is a blue-green algae frequently found in freshwater, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These blooms produce highly potent toxins that can cause health risks to those who come in contact with the water.

That includes animals, too, so the state is warning people to keep their pets away from the river in order to prevent them from swimming in or drinking the water.

A study by the World Health Organization found that people exposed to cyanobacteria reported respiratory issues, gastrointestinal illness, rashes, eye and ear irritations, diarrhea and fever.

The most common symptom of cyanobacteria is skin irritation, but more serious cases can result in kidney, liver or central nervous system damage.

The advisory is in effect until “further notice,” according to the DCR. 

One reason cyanobacteria is dangerous, the state’s Bureau of Environmental Health warns, is because of its ability to multiply quickly, so monitoring the levels is crucial.

Officials will continue to test the water’s cyanobacteria levels until they are within the Department of Public Health’s regulated acceptable limit.