Susan Buckley, RN, Director, Public Health
Ira Singh, MPH, Deputy Director
Donald I. Baird, MD, Health Officer

Division of Environmental Health

PRESS RELEASE

Date Released: 7/20/2010
Subject: BLUE-GREEN ALGAE WARNING
Contact: Harriet Hill, Registered Environmental Health Specialist, Environmental Health Division. Please contact before 10:30 am on Wednesday, July 21
Phone: (707) 445-6215

Officials with the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services are warning recreational users of the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen Rivers, Big Lagoon, and all other fresh water bodies to avoid contact with algae this summer.

They are aware of 11 dog deaths which may have been caused by blue-green algae poisoning since 2001. The dogs died shortly after swimming in Big Lagoon, the South Fork Eel River and the Van Duzen River. Two dogs died last year on the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen Rivers.

A nerve toxin associated with blue-green algae was found in the stomachs of the dogs that died on the South Fork Eel River in 2001. The same toxin was found in water samples from the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen Rivers last summer. This toxin is the most likely cause of the dog deaths on these rivers. Dogs are more vulnerable than people because they may swallow the poison when they lick their fur. The onset of symptoms can be rapid; dogs have died within 30 minutes to one hour after leaving the water.

Blue green algae blooms that produce a liver toxin also have been documented in Klamath River reservoirs and the lower river.

Blue-green algae can be present in any fresh water body. It looks like green, blue-green, white or brown scum, foam or mats floating on the water. Usually it does not affect animals or people. However, warm water and abundant nutrients can cause blue-green algae to grow more rapidly than usual. These floating algal masses or “blooms” can produce natural toxins that are very potent. Because of their smaller body size and tendency to stay in the water, dogs and children are most likely to be affected.

Potential symptoms in dogs following exposure to blue green algae toxins can include lethargy, difficulty breathing, salivation, vomiting, urination, diarrhea, or convulsions. People can experience eye irritation, skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold or flu-like symptoms.

DHHS officials recommend the following guidelines for recreational users of all freshwater areas in Humboldt County:

• Keep children, pets and livestock from swimming in or drinking water containing algal scums or mats.
• Adults should also avoid wading and swimming in water containing algal blooms. Try not to swallow or inhale water spray in an algal bloom area.
• If no algal scums or mats are visible, you should still carefully watch young children and warn them not to swallow any water.
• Fish should be consumed only after removing the guts and liver and rinsing fillets in tap water.
• Never drink, cook with or wash dishes with water from rivers, streams or lakes.
• Get medical attention immediately if you think that you, your pet, or livestock might have been poisoned by blue-green algae toxins. Be sure to tell the doctor about possible contact with blue-green algae.

Human activities can have a big effect on nutrient and water flows in rivers, streams or lakes. Phosphorous and nitrogen found in fertilizers, animal waste, and human waste can stimulate blooms. Excessive water diversions can increase water temperatures and reduce flows. People can take the following measures to prevent algal blooms in our waters:

• Be very conservative with the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn, garden or agricultural operation.
• Recycle any “spent” soil that has been used for intensive growing by tilling it back into gardens. Or protect it from rainfall to avoid nutrient runoff.
• Plant or maintain native plants around banks. These plants help filter water and don’t require fertilizers.
• Pump and maintain your septic system every three to four years.
• Prevent surface water runoff from agricultural and livestock areas.
• Prevent erosion around construction and logging operations.

Please contact the Humboldt County DHHS Division of Environmental Health, at
(707) 445-6215 or 1-800-963-9241 for further information. The California Department of Public Health website also has more details: www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/environhealth/water/Pages/bluegreenalgae.aspx.

 

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