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Toxic algae levels still increasing

by Lacey Jarrell, Herald and News 8/25/15

Recent samples taken from Upper Klamath and Agency lakes indicate toxic levels of blue-green algae are increasing.

David Farrer, a toxicologist for the Oregon Health Authority, said the most recent samples of the toxic blue-green algae, Microcystis aeruginosa, contaminating the lakes were collected the second week in August.

“At that time, toxins in Upper Klamath Lake and Agency Lake were higher than they were when we issued the health warning,” Farrer said.

Toxicologists aren’t sure why the levels are increasing, he added.

A health warning advising the public and their pets to stay out of the water bodies was issued in late July after high levels of the toxic Microcystis algae was found in Upper Klamath and Agency lakes.

Microcycstis is a cyanobacteria that produces harmful microcystin toxins that can cause liver damage.

The warning extends from Agency and Upper Klamath lakes to the Klamath River at J.C. Boyle Dam.

The advisory is the first of its kind to be issued for Upper Klamath Lake, but several other water bodies in Klamath and Lake counties have received health advisories in the past.

According to Farrer, scientists can’t say how long the toxins will remain; however, observations at other lakes have revealed that once an algae bloom turns toxic, water conditions typically remain unsafe until cool weather and rain arrive in fall.

“It’s like predicting the weather — it’s impossible to know for sure,” Farrer said.

No reports of the algae-related illness have been reported, but wildlife is known to have died from ingesting toxic algae at other Oregon lakes. Farrer said there is a “strong likelihood” waterfowl and small herds of elk and bighorn sheep have died after drinking from contaminated water sources.

“We haven’t had any reports (of wildlife die-offs) specific to Upper Klamath Lake this year,” Farrer said.

Eric Janney, a fish biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, said scientists don’t know how algae — toxic or otherwise — affects endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers that inhabit Upper Klamath Lake.

“That’s the million dollar question,” he said.

A non-toxic blue-green algae called Aphanizomenon flos-aqua flourishes in Upper Klamath Lake year-round.

“That’s what’s responsible for the poor water quality,” Janney said.

Although suckers are known to withstand extremely poor water conditions, the species’ populations have declined sharply in recent decades and both were given protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1988.

Ramona Quinn, a Klamath County Department of Public Health program manager, said about 40 toxin warning signs have been placed along the impacted water bodies.

“Any place we could find a marina, a boat dock or a place people play,” Quinn said.

Until the advisory is lifted, the public should avoid coming into contact with or ingesting contaminated water, Quinn said.

“They need to keep pets away and keep small children out of the water if there’s a chance they might ingest it,” she said.

Farrer said algae-related illness presents symptoms similar to a stomach flu. He said symptoms will appear within 24 hours of exposure.

To find out if an advisory has been issued or lifted, visit www.healthoregon.org/hab and select “algae bloom advisories,” or call the Public Health Division toll-free information line at 877-290-6767. For health information or to report an illness, contact Oregon Health Authority at 971-673-0400


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              Page Updated: Thursday August 27, 2015 05:16 PM  Pacific

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