Experts say toxic algae may pose threat to kids, pets

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A deadly species of algae found in Gwinnett County could pose a wider threat to children and pets in metro Atlanta.

The hard to kill species of blue-green algae was found in a pond located on a farm in Dacula.

Since May, cattle farmer Bill Atkinson has lost four cows.

They all died after drinking toxic water.

"One day they were fine, the next day you walk down there and you've got one dead," Atkinson said. "We lost three before we realized it was the lake that was doing it."

Atkinson showed Channel 2's Carl Willis around the farm and the pond where scientists from the University of Georgia said there was a dense and toxic algae bloom.

"It registered off the scale with toxin and that would kill something right quick," said Atkinson.

Rebecca Haynie, a toxicoligist from UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said the the hard to kill species of algae came from a perfect storm of elements.

That includes an unusually warm spring, and a lack of rain that was followed by a heavy rain that flushed nutrients from the pasture into the pond.

Algae is everywhere, and Haynie said this kind of bloom won't affect most areas.

"Just because you have a green pond doesn't mean to be alarmed, however, we just want to remind people to be cautious and use your best judgment," she said.

Haynie said the same deadly species was found at another farm near Atkninson's.

Still, she said it's not just farmers who should be cautious of microcystis -- a potent toxin that can damage the liver.

"You've got a good looking lawn, you're fertilizing that thing and it's all draining to your neighborhood pond, and who's using that neighborhood pond?" she said.

A few easy steps pond owners can take to help prevent blooms include: leaving vegetated buffers around the pond; limiting livestock access and not over-fertilize the surrounding area.

"Just think about how this situation can translate to urban Atlanta. It can. We have seen this particular species producing toxin in some neighborhood detention ponds."

Haynie said children and pets and livestock should be kept away from water that has become discolored or opaque.

Pond owners also can contact their local Cooperative Extension agent for more information.

"If you can save a kid's life or save somebody's else's cattle, I fell like it's a good thing," said Atkinson.