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Lake Tapps open to swimmers as water tests fail to find detectable concentration of toxin

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LAKE TAPPS, Wash. -- Record-breaking temperatures in the forecast will likely have people heading to lakes and rivers to cool down.

But there’s a strong warning for anyone planning on visiting Lake Tapps after more than a dozen swimmers got sick.

On Thursday, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department warned everyone to stay out of the lake, saying in a news release that it had found toxic algae present in the water.

But a new series of lab tests on  the sample of toxic algae didn't find a detectable concentration of toxin, the department said Friday.

The advisory for swimmers has since been downgraded but the county is still urging caution.

“The Health Department has not been able to confirm the presence of toxins in the water, nor the presence of new algae blooms, so our advisory will change to a caution,” said Brad Harp, water program resources manager.

The health department is now warning swimmers to stay out areas that look like a blob of green algae that looks like paint on top of the water. But sometimes the blooms aren’t so obvious.

“You don’t always necessarily see algae,” said Edie Jeffers with the health department. “It can be kind of a pea green appearance and it is difficult to detect.”

At first the county told everyone, including pets, to stay out of Lake Tapps fearful that toxic algae made 14 people sick last week.

But new lab tests weren’t able to find toxins in the lake – still, the county wants everyone heading to the lake to cool off over the weekend to avoid going near any algae blooms.

“Don’t be in the water in a situation where you could ingest the water,” said Jeffers.

“The message we have for the public is simple: if you see algae in the water, people and their pets should stay out,” said Harp. “Although the illnesses people have reported are consistent with symptoms of toxic algae exposure, we do not believe the conditions that would further threaten public health are widely present. Again, when in doubt, stay out.”

The health department planned to continue monitoring water quality at the lake and may take new water samples for testing next week.

In the meantime, the county is urging people to keep a watch out for algae blooms, which could be fatal for pets if they are exposed.