A shot taken this week at Lough Ennell showing the algal growth.

Bathers and animals banned from Ennell as dangerous algae found

A highly-dangerous algal growth in Lough Ennell which can kill dogs within an hour, and cause a rash or eye infections in humans, has led Westmeath County Council to ban bathing at all areas of the lake.

There is, as of today, Thursday, a total ban on swimming - and also on allowing dogs and other animals enter the waters of the lake.

The “Blue Green algae” has developed as a result of the non-turbulence of the water, the presence of nutrients in the lake, and the arrival of the hot weather.

The trio of factors have let to what county veterinary officer Sean Ó Laoide has described this week as “a perfect storm”.

“We closed it to boathing initially as a result of visual examination, and we took samples and sent them off to the Environmental Research Institute in Cork, and they did the analysis of the cell types and concentration, and that exceeded one million cells per millilitre,” said Mr Ó Laoide.

The offending organism is microcystis, for which the maximum safe concentration would be only in the thousands, he says, explaining:

“It’s a uni-cellular organism and inherent in the cells of these are these toxins and when the cell breaks down, the toxins are released.

“If a dog drinks the water, it could die within an hour. The worst case we had in Westmeath was seven or eight years ago when a lady came over from the UK to work as a locum vet, and she had five dogs with her, and she let them out at Portlick. Three of them were dead before she even made it back to the car.”

For humans, the toxins can lead to skin rashes, eye infections and stomach cramps.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been advised of the development; the Council is erecting signage and the situation is being constantly monitored.
Unfortunately, what would be most likely to ease up the problem would be plenty of rain and wind.

The Council has said that when safe to do so, it will remove the bathing restriction.