EDENTON — Officials with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality are urging the public to avoid contact with green or blue water in the Chowan River due to an algal bloom.
According to a state DEQ press release issued Friday, Chowan County's algae bloom extends along the eastern side of the river from the Arrowhead Beach area south to Edenton, then continues east hugging the shoreline until just beyond the N.C. Highway 32 bridge.
North Carolina has had no reports of adverse health effects in people associated with the algal bloom, according to the DEQ.
Bridget Munger, DEQ spokeswoman, said the agency’s water sciences program has been monitoring the bloom since June 12.
The algae have been spotted in many places between Peele's Fishery near Rocky Hock Landing and Edenton. Downtown Edenton’s bay looks like green tea. Like plastic wrap, a green film covers the top of the water in some places like Harris Landing and White's Landing. Algae are accompanied by a pungent smell.
Munger said the algae have been identified as Anabaena, a member of the blue-green family of algae. She said algal blooms of Anabaena usually appear bright green, however, when a bloom starts to decay, the color can change to a milky blue. The decaying algae produce a strong, foul odor that can affect a large area, she said.
According to a recent report from the N.C. Division of Water Resources, some bluegreen algae, such as dolichospermum, may produce cyanotoxins. These blooms are commonly referred to as potentially harmful algal blooms and can cause illnesses in humans and have been attributed to the death of pets and livestock. Fortunately, no human or animal illnesses have been attributed to the blooms in North Carolina.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports that there are no documented reports of people getting sick from blue-green algae in the state.
The Hertford-based Albemarle Commission recently gave a presentation to Edenton Town Council regarding algal blooms. Edenton councilors are currently forming a round-table group of concerned citizens and local leaders to address the situation.
“Of course, we're all concerned,” said Anne Marie Knighton, Edenton's town manager, during a recent council meeting. “We want to know what are the causes, what are the effects.”
Chowan County Manager Kevin Howard said several groups are trying to gather data to determine the cause of the algal bloom. Howard mentioned the Albemarle Commission's work, the state DEQ’s testing, and the research by private organizations such as the Chowan-Edenton Environmental Group.
According to a county document, County Clerk Susanne Stallings notified commissioners via email on Friday that Chowan Emergency Management Coordinator Cord Palmer began communicating with state officials on Thursday regarding the potential for more algal blooms as the weather warms.
“As you may recall there is little that can be done to prevent or stop the bloom," Stallings wrote. “Our role in these events is public education especially if there is an advisory for use of water that is impacted. The lead role is the health department ... and we distribute their information as it becomes available. I do not believe we are at the advisory level at this time.”
The algal bloom on the Chowan River was first reported on June 11 at the Wildlife Resources Commission boat ramp off U.S. Highway 17, according to the Albemarle Resource Conservation and Development Council.
The DEQ's Water Resources estuarine monitoring team collected water samples on June 12 from the Chowan River, Edenton Bay and Pembroke Creek.
County managers for Washington, Bertie and Gates counties all said they have received no reports of algae in their counties.
Martha Prinsloo of Washington County Soil and Water Conservation said though she has seen no algae in the Albemarle Sound, she will continue to closely monitor the situation.
Chowan County Commissioner John Mitchener recalled algal blooms in the Chowan River from June 2015 and 2016.
“Algae blooms are more than a nuisance,” he said. “They are a systemic threat to the unique beauty of Chowan County and our potential to be a most attractive place in which to live and work.”
Mitchener said Fourth of July festivities by Edenton Bay should proceed as planned. He said education is needed to prevent history from repeating itself.
“Yes, let's do the July 4th celebration,” he said. “But if possible, let's better educate ourselves as to why we have this mess and what human activities can remedy the situation.”
When algae bloomed during early June 2015 and 2016 in the Chowan River, no harmful microcystins were found, according to the Albemarle Resource Conservation and Development Council.
State health officials routinely 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. State water quality and health officials also suggest keeping children and pets away from water that appears bright green, blue, discolored or scummy. Also, do not handle or touch large mats of algae, and if you come into contact with an algal bloom, wash thoroughly.