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Blue Green Algae
Siskiyou  County public health news, 8/8/06
The summer recreation season is upon us. County residents and visitors are visiting our local waterways to enjoy camping, boating, kayaking, and river rafting activities.

The Siskiyou County Public Health Department reminds residents and visitors that Irongate Reservoir, Copco Lake and Lake Shastina are known to have seasonal blooms of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). Irongate Reservoir and Copco Lake are currently experiencing a bloom. Blooms typically occur between June and October when temperatures rise and water conditions are favorable for algal growth.

Samples from Irongate Reservoir and Copco Lake taken in late July indicate high algae cell counts and visible algal scums along the shoreline. Sampling from previous years indicates that these algae are capable of releasing toxins that are potentially harmful to human health. Related to those blooms, Siskiyou County provided brochures at the affected waterbodies and provided public service announcements about potential health concerns.

Blue-green algal blooms are common phenomena that occur world wide. The State of California has embarked upon a process to evaluate the potential health risks associated with blue-green algal toxins, determine appropriate water sampling and monitoring procedures, identify strategies to control toxic blooms, and to better inform the public about health and environmental concerns. Siskiyou County is an active participant in this statewide effort and will continue to keep abreast of information and issues concerning toxic blue-green algal blooms.

While there have been no documented cases of human illness associated with blue-green algae in California, studies around the world show that recreational exposures to toxic blue-green algae might result in eye irritation, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting and diarrhea, and hay-fever like symptoms. There is little information available about the potential human health effects of long-term exposure to blue-green algae.

The presence of blue-green algae in a water body does not necessarily mean toxins are always present. However, identifying the presence of toxins is an expensive and difficult process and one that may involve many days to weeks before results are available. Therefore, it is prudent for recreational users to adhere to the following precautions with regard to blue-green algae blooms in Siskiyou County waterbodies:   Avoid wading and swimming in water containing visible blooms or water containing algal scums or mats. Carefully watch children to ensure that their exposure and accidental water ingestion is minimized. Because of their small body size and weight, children who ingest a small amount of water can receive a higher relative exposure to toxic substances than adults who ingest the same amount. Do not drink, cook or wash dishes with untreated surface water under any circumstances. In addition to blue green algal toxin concerns, open surface waters can contain harmful bacteria and parasites. If you accidentally swallow water from a bloom and experience one or more of the following symptoms you should contact your physician and the Public Health Department. Stomach cramps Vomiting Diarrhea Fever Fish caught in these reservoirs may be consumed after removing guts and liver, and rinsing filets in tap water. In addition, residents and visitors are reminded that domestic animals and livestock can be affected by blue-green algal blooms. There are documented animal poisonings and deaths associated with exposure and consumption of algal toxins. Special care should be taken to ensure that animals do not drink the water or swim through heavy scums or mats. Consumption of algal toxins occurs when animals lick their fur after wading/swimming in blue-green algal blooms.

The public may contact the Siskiyou County Public Health Department for additional information by calling (530) 841-2100. For information about the State of California’s activities related to blue-green algae blooms, visit these web sites:  
Department of Health Services: http://www.dhs.ca.gov/bga

State Water Resources Control Board: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/bluegreenalgae/index.html

The official news release is available for download as a distributable Microsoft Word document:

   (click to download)

Also available is a blue-green algae  informational brochure:

   (click to download)

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