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It’s the dog days of summer, but some capital beachgoers may have to rethink their beat-the-heat destination now that O’Brien Beach in Gatineau Park will be closed for up to 10 days due to a bloom of potentially harmful blue-green algae.
That’s how long the National Capital Commission needs for water testing results to come back and determine if the algae is of the variety that produces toxins, said Sandra Cook, an NCC biologist.
“This is a precaution,” said Cook of the closure.
Lifeguard Julien Clerk-Lamalice had just arrived to his post at Meech Lake late Tuesday morning when he and a fellow lifeguard spotted the cyanobacteria algae in the water along the shoreline. His supervisor contacted a biologist who took water samples and sent them to a lab to be analyzed.
While many of the 3,500 species of blue-green algae are safe, certain species produce toxins, said Cook. This marks the first time a bloom of cyanobacteria has caused the closure of a Gatineau Park beach.
Algae is not new to the park, said Cook, but there have never been toxins found there.
Usually, algae appears later in the summer, Cook said. One of the factors may be the heavy rainfall the area’s experienced recently.
Cyanobacteria has been reported in dozens of Quebec lakes this year. The rising number of algae-sighting announcements in recent years is partly due to an increased awareness of water quality, Cook said.
Although there has never been a human death in Quebec resulting from swallowing water contaminated with algae toxins, animals elsewhere have died from drinking contaminated water, Cook said.
Contact with algae containing toxins may result in skin, ear, nose, and eye irritation, while ingesting the water may result in gastrointestinal issues, including stomach ache, diarrhea, nausea and headaches.
The bloom stretched the length of the sandy area of the beach, but was only 30 centimetres in width.
“We’re situated at the end of the lake, so there is more likelihood of accumulation,” said Cook.