Lake Foam

Update on Lake Foam, by Dr. Bob Werner

21Over the last several years there has been a visible increase in the amount of foam on Skaneateles Lake. The foam accumulates along the shore and in bays after windy days. If you try to pick up the foam you will find that it is stiff and sticky, not unlike beaten egg whites or meringue. As you might expect, the foam is of considerable concern to residents around the lake.

The Skaneateles Lake Association is also concerned and has collected samples for certified analysis to determine the source of this material. Preliminary results are in and we wanted to share this with you.

Fundamentally, foam occurs when bubbles are trapped underwater and the surface tension is flexible enough to prevent the bubble from bursting when it reaches the surface. The flexibility of the surface tension is a function of the concentration of surfactants in the water. Surfactants are naturally occurring compounds like soluble organic matter or man-made products such as detergents. If the results indicate that the surfactants are naturally occurring then we have relatively little to worry about. It should clear up over time. If, however, the surfactants are man-made (anthropogenic) then we need to locate the source.

Dr. William Sawyer, a member of the SLA board and a forensic toxicologist has ordered test and reviewed the results of the chemical analysis of the foam and has concluded that:

“Based upon the above analyses, it is highly probable that the anionic surfactants measured are from natural degradation of biological matter within the lake. No objective evidence of any anthropogenic contaminants were detected.”

Apparently, this phenomenon has been noted in Canandaigua Lake, Cayuga Lake and Oneida Lake to name just a few in our area. We will try to stay on top of this and keep you informed as we learn more.