ROXBURY, NJ – People who continue to ignore warnings to stay out of Lake Hopatcong’s water due to an ongoing bacterial outbreak are engaging in risky business, said state Assemblyman Anthony Bucco tonight.

His comments came during a discussion at the Roxbury Mayor and Council meeting. Bucco (R-25th Dist.) also serves as Roxbury’s township counsel.

“I had a meeting this morning with a few members of The Lake Hopatcong Foundation,” Bucco said. “One of the questions I asked is if they have been told that folks are reporting illness.”

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The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been warning people to not come in contact with water from anywhere on the lake due to the harmful algal bloom (HAB) taking place. Despite the name, a HAB is caused by bacteria, not algae, and it can cause illness ranging from minor skin irritation to serious gastrointestinal ailments, said the state.

Bucco said the foundation members told him they’ve received reports of health problems being experienced by people who ignored the DEP’s warning.

“They are, in fact, breaking out in hives and rashes,” he said. “There have been a number that have been sent to the emergency room. So, this is real. You do not want to come in contact with the water, especially for young children and older adults.”

Capable of Making Powerful Poison

The bacteria that cause HABs are called cyanobacteria. They are found normally in lakes, rivers and streams, but during HABs they multiply more quickly due to environmental conditions, primarily too many nutrients - such as phosphorous - in still, warm water, according to biologists. In high-enough concentration, these bacteria produce poison called cyanotoxin.

"Cyanotoxins are among the most powerful natural poisons known," says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They can make people, their pets, and other animals sick. Unfortunately, there are no remedies to counteract the effects."

Scientists studying Lake Hopatcong have not found dangerously high levels of the three types of cyanotoxins being measured, but they continue to find high concentrations of cyanobacteria. These colonies can contain other cyanotoxins, especially types that cause skin rashes or respiratory disease, said Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro, a consultant working with the DEP.

But Nobody's Stopping You

Despite Bucco’s comments, Roxbury Mayor Bob DeFillippo pointed out that some of his colleagues on the council were incorrect in stating that the DEP issued an order banning people from going in the water.

“That’s part of the problem,” he told the audience at the council meeting. “You heard me call it an advisory. These guys called it a ban. It’s not a ban. There’s no ban on swimming. There’s an advisory not to swim.”

DeFillippo stressed that nobody is stopping people from going into the water.

“If the State Police see you swimming, they’ll tell you that … you can get sick. But you’re not going to get a ticket. You’re not going to be forced to get out of there. There’s a little bit of ambiguity in the way the state has handled this and its causing confusion.”

Capsized Economy for Lakeside Businesses

One thing that’s not ambiguous is the effect the HAB is having on many businesses that rely on Lake Hopatcong recreation, including marinas.

Although state officials, at a meeting Monday, urged people to continue using the lake for boating – but not for jet skiing, water skiing or any other activity that could bring skin into contact with the water – marinas are suffering.

David Gedecke, owner of Lake’s End Marina in Landing, blamed imprecise messaging from the state and media. “This advisory from the start has been publicized as the lake is closed, which was never the case, and it has really devastated the businesses around the lake,” Gedecke said at a Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting Monday in Hopatcong. “Not only mine; the restaurants, other marinas. I mean, last Saturday having a blinking sign on Route 80 saying “Lake Hopatcong Closed” was absolutely ludicrous.”

Gedecke told DEP officials at the Monday meeting that “it would be nice to know if we could get sections of the lake open again … there’s got to be some kind of happy medium to … get people back to the lake, renting boats, fishing, tubing, whatever they are here to do.”

The DEP is not making any promises. “Our number one concern is public health,” said DEP Director of Water Monitoring and Standards at Monday’s meeting.

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