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OSU Studies Blue-Green Algae Toxins

CORVALLIS, OR -- Research at Oregon State University sheds new light on dangers posed by algae blooms that often impact water recreation in the summer.

In the summer of 2018, a blue-green algae bloom in Detroit Reservoir fouled Salem’s drinking water, forcing people to use bottled water because the toxin can’t be boiled away. "That’s a big deal," says OSU Professor of Microbiology Theo Dreher, "It put people at risk. It’s an enormous cost. And then, in the previous summer, on a private reservoir down near Lakeview in southeast Oregon, slightly over 30 cattle died in one toxicosis event."

Professor Dreher is leading the study of these blooms, to help narrow down when warnings should be issued. He tells KBND News, "In terms of the canonical toxins, not all of these blooms are toxic. But, there’s enough worry to be concerned that having close contact with any of those blooms is not a good idea. Those that are toxic can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, even liver or neurological problems. Dogs, he says, are most at risk because the algae sticks to their fur. The toxin can leach through their skin or be ingested when they lick their fur.

Researchers sampled 10 Oregon lakes and found toxic blooms in Detroit Reservoir - which supplies Salem’s drinking water, Odell Lake in the Cascades,  the Metolius Arm of Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon, and Junipers Reservoir in Lake County. "It’s an enormous family of related toxins and information is still coming out, especially the one family called microcystin. There are about 200 slightly different types. And, as you can imagine, it’s hard to get your head around all of that and figure out the precise toxicity of all of those."

If a person or a pet comes in contact with water that may contain harmful bacteria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises immediate rinsing with fresh water. Dogs should not be allowed to lick the contaminated water off their fur, the CDC adds, and a veterinarian should be called right away. Anyone swallowing water near a harmful algal bloom should immediately call a doctor or poison control center.  

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