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RIDOH and RIDEM Recommend Avoiding Contact with St. Mary's and South Easton Ponds

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with St. Mary's Pond in Portsmouth and South Easton Pond in Middletown because of blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) blooms in those ponds.

Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals. People should not ingest untreated water or eat fish from those ponds. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Contact with water containing cyanobacteria can cause irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, due to their size and because they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, these ponds who experience symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with water from these ponds should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

These ponds are drinking water sources maintained by Newport Water. However, even when a cyanobacteria bloom is present in a pond, the treated water that Newport Water distributes to homes is safe. Treatment removes harmful bacteria, including cyanobacteria, before the water is delivered to customers. Newport Water follows all state and federal drinking water testing and monitoring requirements to ensure that treatment processes are working correctly and the water is safe to drink.

Water that is treated to become drinking water comes from nine different surface reservoirs or ponds located on Aquidneck Island, in Tiverton, and in Little Compton, all owned and maintained by Newport Water. State law prohibits both people and animals from swimming and bathing in ponds that are drinking water sources. In addition, Newport Water prohibits fishing, swimming, and boating in these reservoirs, as posted. (The only exception is that RIDEM allows recreational fishing from of St. Mary's Pond dam in Portsmouth when there is no cyanobacteria bloom and there are no other restrictions in place.)

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact RIDEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700.

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