Copper Sulfate Treatments for Lakes Threaten Visitors and Wildlife

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Treating lakes with copper sulfate can get rid of blue-green algae, but it is expensive, laborious and potentially harmful to people and wildlife.

If you can create sufficient circulation, blue-green algae problems and other unwanted water conditions can be avoided or even corrected

Until recently, treating lake waters with copper sulfate was accepted as an expensive and laborious method of killing blue-green algae. But after years of pouring innumerable tons of such copper compounds into lakes throughout North America, the use of these herbicides has proved to be hazardous endangering lake habitats, wildlife, and people who use those waters. Fortunately, a growing number of states have banned copper treatment of lake waters. Also, agencies such as EPA and OSHA have begun educating the public about the hazards of such usage.

Small, “trace” amounts of the element copper are essential for good health in humans. However, exposure to greater quantities can be very harmful – even fatal. Copper sulfate is toxic to people as well as animals and numerous forms of marine life. In people, unsafe exposure to this herbicide may affect the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. Swimmers with a history of chronic respiratory or skin disease may be at increased risk, in addition to headaches plus irritation of the eyes, nose and mouth from exposure to copper compounds in water.

Moreover, long periods of copper treatments have increased blue-green algae resistance. In such cases higher concentrations of copper treatments may be required, correspondingly increasing the risks of hazardous exposure.

Also, spreading copper treatments within permissible concentrations across a lake is problematic, due to currents and irregularities in water depths. In some instances, copper treatments cause very high toxicity in portions of a lake.

A Cost-Effective, Non-Toxic Solution

Due to all the health and economic problems associated with stagnant water and chemical treatments, the use of water circulators for cleaning up and maintaining lakes and reservoirs has gained remarkable interest in recent years.

"If you can create sufficient circulation, blue-green algae problems and other unwanted water conditions can be avoided or even corrected," says Joel Bleth, president of Pump Systems, Inc. (PSI), Dickinson, ND. "Sufficient water circulation will minimize or eliminate the need for chemical and carbon treatments because it prevents this type of algae takeover."

To provide reliable and flexible circulation, PSI developed SolarBee™, a floating self-contained system for use in lakes and reservoirs. Powered by solar modules, a single SolarBee unit can draw up to 10,000 gallons of water per minute and spread it gently across the surface for continuous aeration 24-hours per day. The system's mixing action prevents the takeover of blue-green algae and promotes a good crop of diatoms and green algae ("good algae"), zooplankton and dissolved oxygen.

The ability of this water treatment technology to effectively control problematic blue-green algae blooms by habitat disruption – rather than copper sulfate – has been well documented. In numerous applications these circulators virtually eliminated the high costs of copper treatments. Also, water clarity was often greatly improved, sediments reduced, and fish populations improved.

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