State and local officials have enlisted the help of scientists to investigate a report that a dog died from blue-green algae exposure after it ingested water from Georgica Pond in East Hampton Village.
Now the East Hampton Town Trustees, together with state, county and town Natural Resources director Kim Shaw, are coming together to develop a program for water testing at several bodies of water throughout town.
The small dog was roaming around the shoreline with another dog, unmonitored, on Sept. 8 when it reportedly drank the water and became ill, according to Christopher Gobler, a marine science professor at Stony Brook University, who said he received the information from state officials to test the water on Sept. 21.
The owner reportedly took the sick dog to an emergency veterinary clinic for medical care. It died a few days later, reportedly of liver failure due to a bacteria found called cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, which produces a toxin harmful to the liver.
His test, performed Sept. 21, found only low levels of blue-green algae were present.
The trustees learned of the situation just before its last meeting, according to Diane McNally, the trustee secretary.
Both McNally and Gobler said there is no known public health threat.
"It's very unfortunate," McNally said. "The implications that we now have a dangerous pond, it's a little premature."
She said the dog was at large, with at least one other dog who did become ill, and there are no witnesses that the canine actually drank from the pond. "You can't pinpoint Georgica Pond water," she said. The algae "could also show up in a mud puddle, a bird bath, a bucket of water. There's no way to know for sure."
Gobler agreed, adding that it could be an anomalous event. However, there's been a negative trend in terms of water quality on the East End.
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Gobler said this is not an uncommon occurrence elsewhere. "Scientists don't understand why," he said, but animals seem to be attracted to this type of algae.
Blue-green algae floats at the surface during warmer water temperatures and is more prevalent in bodies of water that don't flush out well. It can be caused by higher levels of nitrates, which can come from septic tanks, fertilizers and road run off, he said. "If the wind is blowing in a particular direction it can concentrate in one place — that can be a problem," he said.
However, he wanted to make it clear that there's no need to panic. Particularly with temperatures decreasing, Gobler said there should be no concern about using Georgica Pond — though he wouldn't recommend allowing dogs to drink from it. "Unless people are drinking the water, it's not a human health threat," he said.
McNally said she has never heard before of an animal dying from ingesting water in East Hampton.
Gobler, who has studied Lake Agawam in Southampton extensively for 10 years, said he has not studied Georgica Pond. McNally said there hasn't been any cause to study that body of water.
"We need more information," McNally said. "The more data we have the better."
The trustees have not discussed a figure yet for how much testing will cost. Gobler will likely be hired to do so, she said.