A community meeting about dangerous levels of toxic algae found in water samples recently taken from Summit Lake in Thurston County drew a standing-room-only crowd Saturday afternoon.
More than 200 people filled a lodge at the Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Thunderbird to learn about the toxic blue-green algae bloom that prompted the Thurston County Board of Health to declare a “community emergency,” and send a water truck daily to the area for the lake’s residents until the advisory is lifted.
“We have the best people in place at county to manage this thing,” Thurston County Commissioner John Hutchings told The Olympian before the meeting. “We care, and we’re on top of it. We’re going to do everything we can to work with them.”
Tests confirmed last week that a blue-green algae bloom on Summit Lake was producing “extremely high levels” of the toxin Anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin, according to Thurston County Environmental Health.
Anatoxin-a is a potent toxin that affects the nervous system. Symptoms include lethargy, muscle aches, confusion, memory impairment, and at sufficiently high concentrations, death, according to the state’s freshwater algae bloom monitoring program.
Although the toxin has been found in other lakes in the region, many residents use Summit Lake’s water as their potable water source, which is why county officials are so concerned about the algae bloom.
Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Rachel Wood urged people to avoid having any contact with the lake water until a toxic algae advisory has been lifted.
She said that includes showering, washing dishes, doing laundry and letting pets come into contact with it.
“I wouldn’t eat the fish,” Wood added.
Wood said she hasn’t heard of anyone who has gotten sick from Summit Lake’s water. Thurston County Public Health and Social Services director Schelli Slaughter said county officials have been in contact with South Sound veterinarians and she hasn’t heard of any pets who have gotten sick from exposure to the water.
Thurston County Environmental Health director Art Starry said at-home filtration systems can’t kill the toxin, and boiling or bleaching the water could make it worse.
“What tends to break it down is time and sunlight,” he said.
Shellie Holly has lived on the lake for 43 years. She said she’s extremely concerned about the water quality, and she believes property owners who are renting their homes and properties for big events are partially to blame.
“They have 35 to 50 maybe up to 150 people on their septic tank (for a weekend),” Holly said.
Some residents said they plan to continue using the lake’s water, and they think county officials have overreacted.
“It’s a natural thing, it’s a normal phenomenon,” said Floyd Japhet, 89, who has lived on the Summit Lake since 1942. “I’m not worried in the least. I’ve watched it happen so many times. … When it does its cycle, it will clear up and be just as pretty as it ever is.”