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Waughop Lake Closes Due to Toxic Algae

August 10, 2011

Toxin levels could pose risk to animals and humans


The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department today issued a Closed Advisory for Waughop Lake in Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, Wash. due to high levels of toxic algae. Microcystin, a toxin produced by naturally occurring algae, has reached levels that could be fatal to pets and possibly people. The Health Department and the City of Lakewood Parks Department made the decision to close the lake to protect the community from the health risks posed by toxic algae.


“Algae are an everyday occurrence in Pierce County lakes, but the algae in Waughop Lake have reached levels that could be dangerous for humans and pets,” said Dr. Anthony Chen, Director of Health, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “Our surface water team regularly monitors the lakes in Pierce County that have historically had problems with toxic algae. This ongoing work protects Pierce County residents from environmental health risks.”


The Health Department’s surface water team and community volunteers have been monitoring the lake regularly to measure levels of microcystin.  A recent sample had a toxin concentration of 7,082 parts per billion (ppb), well above the 2,000 ppb level that has been identified by the World Health Organization as posing a very high risk for adverse health effects. The greatest health risk exists for pets. If ingested, the toxin concentrations could be fatal. If ingested by humans, gastrointestinal issues are most likely. Skin and spray contact could also pose a risk.   


A 1978 Pierce County study noted water quality in Waughop Lake as an issue.  The City of Lakewood took over management of the site in 2006 and in 2008 received a grant from Washington State Department of Commerce to apply calcium hydroxide to the lake on an experimental basis to reduce the algae growth.  The application did not work as hoped. Waughop Lake has been under a Warning Advisory for toxic algae since May 2009. 


Toxin concentrations vary greatly, but some lakes are more prone to algae blooms than others. Waughop Lake is a kettle lake, fed by storm water runoff and precipitation with no outfall. The longer stretches of daylight and warmer water temperatures during the summer are likely contributors to the increased levels.  The City is considering various treatment options to improve the water quality of the lake.


Although the lake will be closed to boating, swimming and fishing, the path around Waughop Lake will be open for walking and other recreation pursuits.  For Lakewood residents and visitors who want to play on or in the water, there are two public parks on American Lake that provide swimming and wading opportunities.  For more information about recreational resources in the area, visit the City of Lakewood’s website at  


The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Surface Water staff work to inform the community about the many fresh and saltwater areas of the county that are safe and healthy environments for people to enjoy.  An active team of volunteers helps to monitor the lakes in their neighborhoods. To find out more about volunteering, contact EHSurfaceWater/


For more information about toxic algae and the Surface Water Program, visit You can also sign up to receive surface water advisories electronically, by visiting



About the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County.  As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. Learn more at

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