State: Stay out of Chowan River off Arrowhead Beach due to toxic algae

Algae blooms have been a problem for the last several summers. This bloom was in the Perquimans River in June 2019. [Rose Jacot photo]

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is urging the public to stay out of the Chowan River near Indian Creek because of an algae bloom producing the highest levels of toxin recorded this year.

Test results indicate the bloom off Arrowhead Beach in northern Chowan County is producing microcystin at levels greater than 620 micrograms per liter.

At these levels, officials with the Division of Public Health would consider this bloom an extremely high risk for acute health effects during recreational exposure, based on guidance values published by the World Health Organization.

State environmental officials are monitoring numerous blooms in the Chowan River and throughout North Carolina, as reflected in an interactive map on the Division of Water Resources website. Blooms are more common during late summer due to warm water temperatures and stagnant bodies of water. Because toxicity levels can change rapidly over time and location, it is best to stay away from all algal blooms whenever possible.

Harmful algal blooms can cause adverse health effects in people as well as animals. The algae can cause skin irritation or respiratory irritation in people who get in the water or handle the algae. Some harmful blooms can be toxic to animals and people who drink the untreated water.

As a precaution, state health officials encourage the public to avoid contact with large accumulations of algae and prevent children and pets from swimming or ingesting water in an algal bloom.

The following steps are suggested to safeguard against any algal bloom:

If you are unsure whether or not a bloom is present, it is best to stay out of the water.
Keep children and pets away from waters that appear discolored or scummy.
Do not handle or touch large accumulations (“scums” or mats) of algae.
Do not water ski or jet ski over algal mats.
Do not use scummy water for cleaning or irrigation.
If you accidentally come into contact with an algal bloom, wash thoroughly.
If your child appears ill after being in waters containing a bloom, seek medical care immediately.
If your pet appears to stumble, stagger, or collapse after being in a pond, lake or river, seek veterinary care immediately.

For more information on potential adverse health effects of algal blooms, visit the Division of Public Health website. To learn more about algal blooms in North Carolina, visit the Division of Water Resources website.

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Sam Walker was news director for, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3 from August 2011 to March 2022.