Blue-green algal toxins can cause serious health risk
UPDATED: October 9, 2014, 4pm -- Toxicity report has been released, please see Utah Lake Test Results Confirm Presence of Toxin
UPDATED: October 9, 2014, 8:45am -- see Utah Division of Wildlife Resources advises below
PROVO, UTAH (October 7, 2014) - - Utah County Health Department officials were notified today of a dog that has died after suspected exposure to blue-green algal toxin in Utah Lake near the Lindon Marina area. The toxin is a byproduct of blue-green algae -- sometimes referred to as "pond scum" -- which has collected in the area. As a result, health officials are issuing a warning to anyone swimming or boating to avoid the areas of bright green algae growth.
"The dog owner reported that after playing in the water, and probably drinking some, it started to exhibit strange behavior within forty-five minutes including lethargy and vomiting. The dog passed away shortly after that," said Dr. Joseph Miner, Utah County Health Department (UCHD) Director. "Blue-green algae can grow quickly in what are called 'blooms' and can collect in slow moving or stagnant water areas."
Although this bloom has been reported in the Lindon Marina area, other blooms have and do take place in any area of the lake. "Individuals should not swim or boat in areas of bright green water," said Carl Adams, Utah Department of Water Quality program manager. "The water is the color of car radiator antifreeze -- it has a very distinctive color and should be avoided."
"Algae develops and dies off as a natural part of the lake biology," said Adams. "The bright green coloring of the water is actually a photosynthetic bacteria that grows quickly when given sunlight and nutrients such as phosphorus or nitrogen. Blue-green algal toxins are naturally produced chemical compounds that sometimes are produced inside the cells of certain species of blue-green algae."
"Algae blooms can last for days or weeks depending on weather conditions," said Adams. "Calm, warm, and sunny conditions promote blue-green algae growth, so it is possible the bloom will persist at least through the weekend given the high pressure system currently over northern Utah."
Adams explained that the toxic chemicals are not produced all of the time and there is no easy way to tell when blue-green algae are producing them and when they are not. When the cells are broken open, the toxins may be released. Sometimes this occurs when the cells die off naturally and they break open as they sink and decay in a lake. Cells may also be broken open when the water is treated with chemicals meant to kill algae, and when cells are swallowed and mixed with digestive acids in the stomachs of people or animals. The only way to be sure if the toxins are present is to have water samples analyzed in a laboratory using sophisticated equipment. Further testing is being done to confirm the presence of algae toxin in Utah Lake.
Symptoms of toxin exposure include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, muscle weakness, and/or difficulty breathing. If you think you might have been exposed, you should contact your doctor. For more information, please see http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/hab.
High resolution photos available for download below.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources advises anglers and hunters to avoid the affected areas and to not eat fish, shellfish, birds or other animals that are found dead or sick. Hunters should also keep their dogs out of the affected areas.
While the blue-green algae bloom is underway, if you catch fish anywhere on Utah Lake, remove the fat, skin and organs from the fish before cooking. Be careful not to cut into the organs. Before cooking or freezing the fish, rinse the fillets with clean water to remove any contaminants that might have gotten onto the fillets during the cleaning process.
The Utah County Health Department is committed to promoting the health of our community by preventing avoidable disease and injury by monitoring the health of our community, responding to public health emergencies, and assuring conditions in which people can be healthy. For information on UCHD programs or services, please visit www.UtahCountyHealth.org or call 801-851-7000. You can also now follow the UCHD at www.FaceBook.com/uchealth, www.instagram.com/UtahCountyHealthDept, www.twitter.com/uchd, or www.pinterest.com/uchd. The UCHD is a partner with Utah's Public Health Departments.