Test results expected soon on algae scum found in Willamette River downtown
The Oregon Health Authority is awaiting test results of algae scum spotted in the downtown stretch of the Willamette River, and meanwhile maintains its precautionary health advisory for active recreational use of the Willamette River from the Ross Island Lagoon all the way south to Cathedral Park.
The health advisory came Friday, after visible scum first noticed in the Ross Island lagoon spread rapidly, and was observed at the River Place marina, the swimming dock south of the Hawthorne Bridge, Tom McCall Waterfront Park and at Cathedral Park.
Conditions are changing quickly, so people are advised to refrain from swimming in the entire downtown stretch of the river, as well as water skiing, power boating or other activities where people may come in contact with the algae. Pets should be kept away from the water.
The Department of Environmental Quality collected samples to do a lab analysis and determine if the algae has become toxic, and expects to announce the results this week.
OHA first issued a health advisory for the Ross Island Lagoon on Aug. 3 and lifted it Aug. 7 after tests showed toxin levels were below recreational advisory levels.
DEQ also carried out a visual assessment of the river and reported cyanobacteria starting at 100 meters south of Ross Island lagoon. Inside the lagoon, the bloom was thick with scums, blobs and streaking throughout.
If present, toxins are usually highest in areas where the bloom is visible, and people can avoid most of the health risks associated with blooms by avoiding those areas. However, it's possible cyanotoxins can still exist in clear water, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Sometimes, cyanobacteria can move into another area, making water that once looked foamy, scummy or discolored now look clear. Dying blooms can also release toxins that may reach into the clear water around them.
Toxins are not absorbed through the skin, but people with skin sensitivities may experience a puffy red rash.
Drinking water directly from affected areas of the river is especially dangerous. Toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering or treating water with camping-style filters.
Public health officials recommend that those who choose to eat fish from waters where cyanobacteria blooms are present remove all fat, skin and organs before cooking, as cyanotoxins are more likely to collect in these tissues. Fillets should also be rinsed with clean water.
Exposure to toxins can produce a variety of symptoms, including numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should also receive medical attention if they persist or worsen. Children and pets are at increased risk for exposure because of their size and level of activity.
For health information or to report an illness, contact the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) at 971-673-0440.
OHA maintains an updated list of all health advisories on its website. To learn if an advisory has been issued or lifted for a specific water body, visit the Harmful Algae Blooms website at horegon.org/hab>www.healthoregon.org/hab and select "algae bloom advisories," or call the Oregon Public Health Division toll-free information line at 877-290-6767.
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