Belleville park pond is deemed safe after algae problem

News-DemocratSeptember 23, 2013 

— City officials have removed signs from Bicentennial Park in Belleville that warned parkgoers of harmful algae in one of the ponds.

Jason Poole, assistant director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said Monday the pond with the aeration fountain at the park no longer contains blue-green algae or algal toxins.

The pond had blue-green algae blooms, which are not always dangerous but could produce microcystin, a toxin that damages the liver.

The pond is located at the city's new Bicentennial Park off 17th Street at the old Angler's Club property. The park officially opened in May.

For at least the past three weeks, residents should not have been swimming, fishing or otherwise allowing themselves or their pets to have skin contact with the water. The algal toxins in the water could be hazardous if inhaled or swallowed.

Belleville Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider said she notified the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in late July after noticing the algae and wondering if they were harmful.

Poole said Illinois EPA officials tested the five ponds at the park about mid-August. Only the pond with the fountain and fishing dock had algae producing toxins.

The other ponds, including one visible from 17th Street, are covered with a more fibrous, floating duckweed, which is not considered toxic.

City officials were told to monitor the blue-green algae and to take down the signs warning residents of the harmful algae when city officials could no longer see the algae, Poole said.

About a week after IEPA officials discovered the toxins, the blue-green algae was still visible but no longer producing toxins, Poole said.

Poole said the blue-green algae outbreak was not extensive: It covered about 20 feet of the pond and not the entire pond.

Unlike the duckweed, which could be seen from afar, the blue-green algae is more difficult to see.

Poole said the algae producing the toxins could only be seen if one is standing on the bank of the pond and looking down at it. He said the blue-green algae looks "as if someone drizzled fluorescent green paint on the lake."

Poole said IEPA officials said there wasn't anything city officials could do to prevent or treat the toxic algae. A fountain usually keeps pond water circulating and prevents the algae, Poole said.

The city's budget this year includes about $10,000 for two aerators, which will be installed in two ponds at Bicentennial Park.

Schneider believes the city has spent too much money opening Bicentennial Park and the property continues to present problems for the city.

The toxic algae is the latest of various issues Schneider has with the park. And, in the past year, the city also has addressed erosion at the park during heavy rains, seeding problems and debris dumped in the water.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said the city has been cautiously developing the park as a way to mark the city's bicentennial in 2014, lift surrounding property values and add to the new 17th Street area.

Those who work and live in the city frequently stop at the park to eat lunch, fish, bike and hike, Eckert said. The city has developed about 3 acres of the 43-acre property, which will mostly remain in its natural state.

As of June, the overall cost of the park was about $2.1 million. The city received a donation of $400,000 to build Kimball Plaza and a grant for $93,000. The rest was paid for with tax increment financing funds.

An IEPA representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Residents could report blooms to the IEPA by sending a photograph and a Bloom Report form from www.epa.state.il.us/water/algal-bloom/index.html.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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