Warning: Toxic algae at Grand Lake St. Marys

State health officials are warning people to stay out of Grand Lake St. Marys after one person was sickened by increased toxin levels.

Red warning signs started doting the beaches and boat ramps late last week due to a harmful algae bloom in the water. Shelby County health officials reported a woman became suck after she spent time at Grand Lake St. Marys.

“You wouldn’t want to put your grandchildren in this water, would you? Not after you have a sign from the Ohio Department of Health saying, ‘Stop it!” said Bill Ringo, a member of Guardians of Grand Lake St. Marys. “There’s a real tragedy going on here … people are losing the value of their homes, their quality of life. Here’s the middle of vacation, nobody’s using this lake.”

The state says too much rain and farmland runoff likely increased the lake’s levels of the microcystin toxin, which comes from a bacteria that causes the harmful algae.

“We’ve been at this for 15 years … and it’s not getting any better — it gets worse every year,” Ringo said.

Toxin levels on the lake recently ranged from 63 parts per billion to nearly 100 ppb. Health officials say contaminated water can start to pose health risks at 20 ppb.

Swallowing the water, swimming in it, even breathing in its mist can lead to rashes, blisters, severe diarrhea, vomiting and abnormal liver function.

The lake, though, remains open.

“I would jump in, right now,” said Christopher Wilson of Celina. “What water doesn’t potentially have the risk of making you sick?”

Daniel Reed, also of Celina, said he will continue to use the lake for recreation.

“I’m not going to go jump out in the middle of it — by no means — but when I get off the lake, I’m going to wash my boat off, and I’m going to take a shower, but, other than that, I’m not too worried about it,” Reed said.

The state spent more than $25 million on improvements over the past five years. The state natural resources department and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will test the water each week and share the levels with the health department to see whether further advisories are needed.