The shore of the Columbia River in Richland, WA ordered closure for toxic algae
The Benton Franklin Health District ordered part of the Columbia River shoreline in Richland closed on Thursday evening due to toxic bacteria in the water.
Test results show that there were high levels of a neurotoxin particularly dangerous to small children and animals, a press release from the district said.
Officials on Wednesday began posting warning signs at access points along the Columbia River near Tri-Cities after reports of the deaths of four dogs and two other sick people from the ‘water.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, the shoreline closure order was issued for the area from the Howard Amon Park boat launch south to the confluence of the Yakima River near Bateman Island.
Health officials have said recreational use should be avoided and children and pets should be kept out of the water until further tests show the toxins to drop to safe levels.
Toxins can build up in fish, especially in the liver, kidneys and other organs, officials said. They warned people to be careful not to eat fish caught in areas with toxic algae blooms.
At the very least, remove internal organs before eating the fish, they said.
Exposure to toxoid-a can be fatal, health officials said.
If humans and animals ingest contaminated water, they can show symptoms within 15 to 20 minutes.
Exposure in animals can cause weakness, wobbling, breathing difficulties, convulsions, and death.
People may experience numbness in the lips, tingling in the fingers and toes, and dizziness.
Health officials are investigating the deaths of four dogs between September 12 and 14 and two more who were ill earlier in the month.
Senior District Health Director Rick Dawson told a news briefing Thursday morning that water samples had been sent to a King County environmental lab for testing.
And the vets were helping to test animals that got sick.
And he said the state’s health ministry is working with the health district to ensure cities’ drinking water systems remain safe. The river is Tri-Cities’ main source of drinking water and is tested for toxic algae both when taken from the river and after processing.
How to spot toxic algae
Toxic algae blooms vary in appearance, but typically resemble pea soup or are blue-green or turquoise in color.
The toxicity of each bloom can vary and is difficult to predict, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
It can change from day to day. Only tests can tell how dangerous it is.
The flowers often look like paint floating on water, Dawson said.
“Honestly, it looks like the water isn’t good, but it doesn’t look like weeds or things like that. Looks like something is going on in or above the water, ”he said.
People can also look for dead birds or fish in the area.
They normally appear in lakes or other bodies of standing water. It is rare, but not uncommon, to see them appear in rivers.
The Scooteney Reservoir in northern Franklin County has an annual problem with the bacteria.
“This is the first time in 35 years that we have received these kinds of reports of a potential algal bloom along the Columbia River,” Dawson said at a board of health meeting this week.
“We have toxic algal blooms quite regularly in some lakes, in the Tri-Cities and Mid-Columbia, but also in Moses Lake and other places.”
Water from low-flow rivers and streams can also be a site for toxic algae.
Most recently, four dogs died in the Spokane area after coming into contact with waterways in August. Three were swimming in the Little Spokane River near Chattaroy and one was swimming in the Spokane River.
Health officials say:
- Do not swim in the water or limit your exposure to water that has a health notice or is listed as having a toxic algae bloom on the state’s Toxic Algae Tracking site.
- People who swim or play in water should shower with soap and water. Contact a healthcare practitioner immediately if you become ill.
- Immediately wash your pets or livestock to prevent them from licking bacteria from their fur.
- Report suspected toxic algae blooms online at the state’s Toxic Algae Tracking site or contact your local health department.
This story was originally published September 16, 2021 12:32 pm.