[env-trinity] Klamath Reservoirs Plagued by Toxic Algae

Josh Allen jallen at trinitycounty.org
Tue Aug 23 14:56:37 PDT 2005

Algal Toxins Pose Significant Health Risk to Community

Karuk Tribe of California 

P R E S S   R E L E A S E

For Immediate Release: August 23, 2005
For more information: 
Craig Tucker, Karuk and Yurok Tribes		530-627-3446 x27

Algal Toxins Pose Significant Health Risk to Community

Happy Camp, CA - A recent analysis of water samples from Copco and Iron
Gate Reservoirs reveal high levels of the toxin microcystin, a compound
known to cause liver failure. Samples taken from areas frequented by
recreational users of the reservoir were over 100 times greater than
what the World Health Organization (WHO) considers a moderate health
risk. The observation of blue-green scum on the water's surface by
water quality specialists indicate that toxin levels fall into the WHO's
high risk category. The 'scum' is actually the blue green algae
Microcystis aeruginosa which secrets the toxin microcystin.

The reservoirs are located on the Klamath River near the Oregon border
between Ashland, Or and Yreka, CA.

According to Karuk Tribe Water Quality Coordinator Susan Corum, "We
collected samples from sites near the shore frequented by recreational
users. We observed thick mats of blue-green scum at the collection
indicating that there could be a serious problem with microcystin

The WHO reports that animal poisonings and human illnesses related to
the blue-green algae Microcystis aeruginosa are usually accompanied by
the presence of scum material at the water surface, and that
ongoing observation of beaches is necessary to assess the existence of

WHO reports indicate that exposure to high levels of microcystin can
produce symptoms such as eye and skin irritation, vomiting and stomach
cramps, diarrhea, fever, headache, pains in muscles and joints, and
weakness. However, chronic long term exposure can be more dangerous as
symptoms may not develop until much damage has been done.

There are two aspects of chronic microcystin damage to the
liver-progressive active liver injury and the potential for promotion of
tumor growth. Tumor formation has been induced in laboratory studies in
Thus liver failure or cancer could result if someone is exposed often
over the course of years.

Earlier this year in Humboldt County, officials issued a warning to
recreational users of Big Lagoon and the South Fork Eel River. Officials
cited the deaths of nine dogs that swam in the contaminated waterways
the presence of microcystin in the stomachs of two animals that were
examined. No other toxins were detected that could have caused the
deaths according to a press release issued by Humboldt County Health and

According to Corum, "Given our test results, Siskiyou County water
quality officials should consider closing the lake to the public until
an emergency response plan to algal blooms is devised - before someone
gets sick or loses
a pet to poisoning."

Children are at the greatest risk because of their small size and
propensity to accidentally swallow water while swimming. If a swimming
child swallowed half a cup of water from the reservoir, they would be
exposed toxin levels almost 100 times the WHO allowable Total Daily

Corum suggests that users of the lake follow the WHO guidelines
regarding blue-green algal blooms:
.	Avoid areas with visible algae and/or scums. Direct contact and
ingestion are associated with the greatest health risk.
.	If no scums are visible, but water shows a strong greenish
discoloration such that you cannot see your feet when standing knee deep
(after sediment has settled) avoid bathing, immersion of head, and/or
.	Avoid waterskiing in visible scums or waters with a strong
coloration as described above because of the potentially substantial
risk of exposure to aerosols.
.	If sailing, sailboarding or undertaking any other activity
likely to
involve accidental immesion, wear clothing that is loose fitting in the
openings. Use of wet suits for water sports may result in greater risk
rashes as the algal material trapped in the wet suit will be in contact
with the skin for longer periods of time.
.	After coming ashore, shower or wash to remove algal material.

Microcystis aeruginosa is native to the Klamath, but only in the
reservoirs do conditions allow for massive blooms to occur, resulting in
toxic levels of microcystin. These conditions include water rich in
stagnation and high water temperatures.

Editors' notes: Pictures of the sampling sites and a copy of lab results
are available by contacting Craig Tucker at 530-627-3446 x27 or
ctucker at karuk.us.

# # #

S. Craig Tucker, Ph.D.
Klamath River Campaign Coordinator
Karuk Tribe
530-627-3446 x27
ctucker at karuk.us

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