Immediate closure of Pass Lake: Danger for toxic blue green algae exposure at Pass Lake, Deception Pass State Park

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August 17, 2021

Users of Deception Pass State Park should be aware that Pass Lake in the Skagit County portion of the park is closed until further notice due to high Anatoxin-a levels. Water samples tested this week detected concentrations of Anatoxin-a in exceedance of the state recreational guidelines.

The preliminary result from the King County Environmental Lab is 2,576 micrograms per liter of anatoxin-a present in the water sample taken from Pass Lake. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the level of public health concern for anatoxin-a is 1 microgram per liter. 

Anatoxin-a is an acute neurotoxin that can be harmful to humans and animals. Even short-term exposure is a concern. Signs of Neurotoxin Poisoning appear within 15-20 minutes of ingestion, and may include:

  • In people: numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness.
  • In animals: weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death.

Until further testing confirms the toxin levels are back within state recreational guidelines, red “Danger” signs will be posted at the lake advising individuals to keep out of the lake, do not swim, drink lake water, fish, recreate, or allow pets or animals to access the lake.

The toxicity of each bloom can vary and is difficult to predict. Toxicity can change from one day to the next. It isn’t possible to determine how dangerous a bloom is to people and animals by looking at it. Only testing can tell if it is dangerous. Pass Lake will be continuously monitored until the levels drop below recommended guidelines.

The public is encouraged to take the following precautions when choosing a body of water for recreation:

  • Look for signs of toxic algae blooms and pay attention to signage. When in doubt, stay out!
  • Do not swim in, and limit exposure to water that is under a health advisory or is listed as having a toxic algae bloom on the Washington State Department of Ecology toxic algae tracking site.
  • Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you become ill or have symptoms after a suspected exposure to algae bloom.

For questions concerning cyanobacteria blooms within Skagit County lakes, please e-mail Samantha Russell at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or visit the Washington State Department of Health website for Blue-Green Algae. Testing results for Washington Lakes are posted at Washington State Toxic Algae.


Let’s Be “Water Safe” This Summer!

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It’s hot this week. Like, hot-hot. And this weekend looks like its going to be a scorcher. With seriously warm weather coming, you and your family might be planning to spend some time in, or near, water this weekend. Whether you’re planning a trip to the beach, to the lake, or just a casual Saturday around the kiddie pool, it is critical to be thinking about water safety at all times.

Why is water safety important?

It only takes a moment. A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools and hot tubs, at the beach or in oceanslakes, rivers and streams, bathtubs, and even buckets. 

How do you ensure water safety?

Being “water safe” means that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones while enjoying time in, and around, the water. These steps include:

  1. Buddying Up: Always swim with other people. Designate a buddy from your household to swim with before you enter the water.
  2. Suiting Up: Always wear life jackets on boats. Make sure everyone has U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets at all times.
  3. Knowing Your Limits: Only swim as far as you can safely get back. Don’t hold your breath for longer than you can. Stay close to shore and rest if you are cold or tired.
  4. Knowing the Water: Don’t enter cold water or very fast-moving water. Always jump feet first into unknown water.
  5. Keeping an Eye Out: Actively supervise young children and inexperienced swimmers. Stay within arm’s reach and avoid distractions.

How do you make water safety a priority, in every location and situation?

Use “Layers of Protection” In & Around Water

There are things that you can actively do to ensure water safety and prevent drowning. Here are just a few:

  • Even if lifeguards are present, you (or another responsible adult) should stay with your children.
  • Be a “water watcher” – provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising; avoid distractions, including cell phones.
  • Teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
  • Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
  • Take specific precautions for the water environment you are in, such as:
    • Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing that separates the water from the house.
    • At the beach, always swim in a lifeguarded area.

Know the Risks & Take Sensible Precautions – Even If You’re a Strong Swimmer

  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs (including certain prescription medications) before or while swimming, diving or supervising swimmers.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating or fishing, even if you don’t intend to enter the water.

Ensure That the Entire Family Learns How to Swim

Now is a great time to look into swim lessons for everyone in your family! Most fitness centers with a pool offer swim lessons for kiddos 6 months and older. For a list of swimming lessons being offered in Skagit County, go to: https://skagit.kidinsider.com/pools. Note: Some information may have changed due to COVID.

Know how to respond in case of emergency

One of the best, and proactive things that you can do to ensure water safety is to learn how to respond during an emergency. Want to become CPR certified? Find a course nearby!

Some helpful links:

The American Red Cross has fantastic resources available that cover every water safety topic. For more information, visit: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety.html.

Links to specific topics:

  1. Drowning Prevention Facts
  2. Home pool & hot tub safety
  3. Swimming Safely at the Beach

Family Beach Day During “COVID Summer”

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I don’t know about you, but the last several weeks my family and I have been feeling more cooped up than usual. It has been difficult to deal with the realities of our current situation as the days are now sunny and warm and perfect for all things SUMMER! I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time dreaming up ideas for the weekend, just to strike everything off the list because they are not COVID-safe activities. Last Friday was definitely a tipping point for me, as I sat deflated, and—let’s be honest—angry about not having anything fun planned for the weekend to come.

To pull myself out of this emotional slump, I picked up the phone. I dialed Deception Pass State Park and, with fingers crossed, asked the woman on the phone if their beach was open for visitors. She said that it was, and I thanked her profusely (and rather dramatically) before hanging up. “Woohoo!! Tomorrow will be beach day,” I shouted to my husband. I went to bed feeling over-the-moon excited about finally having a “normal” summer activity planned.

As we drove into the park, I looked around to gauge if anything looked different from last summer. I was nervous about being so out in the open and felt a little anxious about what I might find as we pulled into the parking lot. When we finally parked, I let out a sign of relief.

Deception Pass State Park – photo of the beach at 1:00 pm right before we left for the day.

Along with the regular beach things like sand toys, hats, sunscreen, and a packed lunch, I was sure to bring a face mask for my husband and myself. Even though our oldest is only three (and exempt from the State/County mask requirement), I packed a little pink practice mask along in case she wanted to imitate mommy (and yes, she absolutely did, and it was very cute). Thankfully, we had decided to get there early (as recommended online), in order to avoid larger groups that would gather later in the afternoon. This turned out to be a very smart move! By around 1:30pm, the whole beach was becoming packed with people, and we were able to make a mad dash to the car to keep socially distanced.

All in all, our little adventure at the beach went swimmingly (HA!). Except for having to wear a mask and being a bit more protective of our personal space than I typically would, the day seemed like any other beach day that my family and I might have enjoyed in the past. We all left feeling physically spent, but emotionally energized. On the car ride home, my husband suggested that we should go grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant (which we haven’t done since early March). For the first time in a very long time we sat and enjoyed a meal all together on an outdoor patio. Something that would have been so normal last year now felt like the most delicious treat, and I was impressed and grateful as I watched the restaurant staff and patrons abide by safe-distancing protocols.

What I realized in venturing outside of my comfort zone last weekend is that I cannot feasibly hole up forever. I need to make peace with the fact that this is a marathon—not a sprint—and I need to find balance in order to keep my sanity intact. So, while it isn’t safe or responsible to take on a full calendar of summertime events like before, it is absolutely okay to get out and safely find a little normalcy in very abnormal times.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Remember: find some balance this summer and take care of your mental and emotional needs. A little sand between the toes does a lot of good once in a while!

So here are a few take-aways for other households who may be looking for a little beachy fun.

  1. Go early. Like I mentioned above, this is essential in order to make sure that you avoid the crowds that will inevitably arrive come mid-afternoon. We got to the beach at 11am, and it was perfect timing! We were able to secure a space for our things that allowed for safe distancing, and we made an effort to steer clear of more congested areas. Just about the time when we were all feeling sunned-out and a little cranky, it was time to go!
  2. Have your face mask on hand. You will be expected to wear it when using public facilities, and it is smart to wear one when passing people in the parking lot or along trails. Children four and younger and those with underlying medical or behavioral health conditions are exempt from the mask requirement. However, parents of children ages two to four are encouraged to have masks available for their kids when in public settings. Lastly, the CDC states that masks are not required to be worn while people are in the water because they can be difficult to breathe through when they get wet. However, this means that it is even more important to maintain social distancing while swimming or wading.
  3. Pack what you will need and avoid unnecessary stops. And with multiple children, this can be a huge undertaking! Be sure to pack your own sand toys, sunscreen, towels, swimwear, hand wipes, and food (when applicable). Before arriving at the beach, talk to your children about keeping track of their toys and explain why—in this particular situation— they shouldn’t share. Talk to your kids about what they should expect when they get to the beach, and talk them through the experience. 
  4. Practice good hygiene and follow posted instructions. This not only will ensure that you keep yourself and your loved ones safe, but also lets the people around you know that you are taking these new requirements seriously. The more people that are seen following these safety precautions, the more likely that others will follow suit.
  5. Don’t go if you are feeling sick. Also, do not go if you have had recent exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Keep in mind that many infected people never show symptoms but can still be contagious. We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus, and that means staying home when we have symptoms. You can find the list of symptoms here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html