Toxic algal blooms spotted in Waterford, White Lake

Health officials advise the public to avoid scummy water in Sugden Lake and Pontiac Lake that may cause illness

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Health officials are warning people and their pets to avoid contact with scummy water in a few Waterford and White Lake township lakes.

The Oakland County Health Division has issued a public advisory warning that harmful algal blooms have been found in White Lake’s Sugden Lake and Pontiac Lake in Waterford and White Lake townships. Recent weather conditions have created these blooms, creating a green sheen on the water that looks like spilled paint. The scum may contain flecks, foam or clumps, and can cause illness in people, pets and aquatic life.

Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford said algal blooms are naturally occurring bacteria in the water, and they’re common in the summer when water temperatures rise.

“It’s perfect timing because the temperatures are warm, we’re having nice sunny days, so it’s really a perfect condition for these algal to be on top of or in the water,” she said.

The health division said people in contact with other lakes without the advisory should still exercise caution. Some algae blooms are harmless, but the dangerous ones contain toxins that can cause skin rashes, hives, blisters, sore throat and asthma-like symptoms. If water containing a harmful algal bloom is swallowed, a person may suffer diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, abnormal liver function, weakness or dizziness. In some cases, it may lead to death.

There is no set time on how long a bloom could last, Stafford said.

“It really depends on the conditions of the water and the temperature,” she said. “It could last a few days, it maybe could last for the summer, we’re not 100 percent sure.”

If you think you have been exposed to a harmful algal bloom, the Oakland County Health Division advises seeking medical treatment if symptoms occur. Exposed pets should be rinsed with clean water or taken to a veterinarian if they consumed the water.

Stafford added that exposed individuals should not be afraid of “spreading” the toxins.

“It doesn’t spread to other lakes.” she explained. “It’s not like I got in one of the identified lakes and then went to another lake, and I’m going to spread it. This is naturally occurring in the lake, and with the conditions and the temperature, it could be in other lakes right now. It just hasn’t necessarily been seen or identified by testing.”

If a harmful algal bloom is in your area, officials warn to not drink the water. Boiling the water will not remove the toxins, either. Individuals also should not boat at high speeds, water-ski or swim in areas of the lake with algal blooms present. Children and pets should avoid playing in or drinking the water.

Stafford emphasized that the public should not try to treat harmful algal blooms.

“The best thing to do is let the toxins die on their own,” she said.

For more information, visit To report a potential harmful algal bloom, call the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Environmental Assistance Center at (800) 662-9278.

(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg