Oregon issues toxic algae warning for popular fishing lake

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 23, 2014 5:11 PM

By Courtney Sherwood

PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon health officials worried about the presence of dangerously toxic blue-green algae in waters used by the public issued a new warning on Tuesday, this time for a lake popular for fishing and camping.

Tests on Cullaby Lake, near the northwest Oregon coast, confirmed high levels of microsystin, making waters unsafe for people and their pets, Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie said.

The warning marked the third such caution in less than a week in the Pacific Northwest state, after similar toxic scum was detected last week in Portland’s Willamette River and at the Wikiup Reservoir in central Oregon.

“These algae have been around for millions of years,” Modie said. “But this summer has been a particularly warm one, and that is good for algae.”

Dangerous algae levels have also been found at five other Oregon lakes and ponds since June, although most are in areas not frequented by large populations. Advisories have been lifted at two lakes but remain in place elsewhere.

Toxic blue-green algae is dangerous to touch, drink or inhale. Swallowing or inhaling water contaminated by the algae can cause numbness, digestive distress or fainting, and skin contact can cause a rash.

Filtering the water will not make it safe, and fish or shellfish from the river could be dangerous to eat, the health authority said. Dogs are particularly vulnerable, according to the agency.

Toxic algae blooms have been a growing problem in the Pacific Northwest during the past several years, a trend scientists attribute to warming waters. Previous outbreaks had been mostly confined to ponds and lakes.

Modie said the state health authorities were concerned that campers may try to filter and drink water from Cullaby, adding the agency had not yet determined if any home drinking water systems drew from the lake.

In Portland, where the Willamette River is a hub of industry, housing and recreation, officials have focused on warning boaters and swimmers – as well as homeless populations that live along the river’s banks. 

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)