City warns of algae in Easthampton’s Rubber Thread Pond

  • Cyanobacteria Bloom on Rubber Thread Pond in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2022 4:40:55 PM
Modified: 5/26/2022 4:38:57 PM

EASTHAMPTON — For the second straight year, the city is advising people and their pets to avoid activities such as swimming, fishing and boating on Rubber Thread Pond due to the possible presence of toxic cyanobacteria.

Health Director Bri Eichstaedt identified a distinct green mat forming over the surface at the pond last week and sent photos to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Toxicology Program. When she returned to work on Monday, the mat had expanded.

“It looked much worse, so I sent another photo in on Monday,” said Eichstaedt, who has received state training in identifying and responding to the potential presence of cyanobacteria. “After review, they confirmed the possible presence of cyanobacteria cells that may exceed state guidelines for recreational water bodies in Massachusetts.”

Rubber Thread Pond is located behind the 50 Payson Ave. parking lot for the Municipal Building and borders the Manhan Rail Trail.

While algae blooms are on the rise in water bodies all over the world as a result of warmer temperatures, the impact can be significantly apparent in more shallow bodies of water that are stagnant.

Some of the blooms contain a microscopic single-celled organism called cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. Contact with the algae can cause skin and eye irritation. Ingesting small amounts can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, and ingesting large amounts may cause liver or neurological damage, according to Eichstaedt. Inhaling water spray with algae in it may also cause asthma-like symptoms.

In addition to Rubber Thread Pond, the presence of cyanobacteria was identified at Nashawannuck Pond and Lower Mill Pond in 2020 and 2019. The potential presence of cyanobacteria has not been identified in those latter ponds this year.

Experimental efforts to prevent the algae from forming blooms are currently underway at Nashawannuck Pond. In April, the Nashawannuck Pond Steering Committee staked 100 onion bags stuffed with barley straw from a bale into the pond that’s 2 to 3 feet deep.

As the barley straw decomposes in certain water bodies, it releases a non-harmful agent that will prevent these blooms from occurring, according to Paul A. Nowak, chairman of Nashawannuck Pond Steering Committee.

While success isn’t guaranteed, it has been found to be effective in certain water bodies, he added.

In the meantime, the city’s Health Department advises people to avoid kayaking, boating, fishing and swimming at Rubber Thread Pond. Pets should also avoid swimming at the pond.

Once it is apparent that the algae bloom at Rubber Thread Pond is no longer evident, the Department of Public Health will follow-up by conducting two samplings.

“Though it can seem misleading to conduct a sampling once the algae blooms are gone and then a week later, algae blooms are most toxic when they’re dying off,” said Eichstaedt.

The Health Department will notify the public once the advisory has been lifted.

For those that believe they have or their pet has come into contact with these algae, Eichstaedt recommends washing with clean water immediately and contacting a primary care physician or veterinarian.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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