Health Advisory: Do not drink or splash in water from Willamette River

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 1.10.41 PMPhoto Credit to KGW

By Teresa Blackman, KGW.com Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. – A noticeable layer of scum in the Willamette River has health officials warning people to stay out of the water and by all means, do not drink it.

The scum extends from the southern end of Ross Island to the Fremont Bridge, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

“Water monitoring is underway to determine the species and amount of blue-green algae cells present in the river. The type of species in the bloom will help to identify whether the cells present are those with the potential to produce toxins harmful to humans and animals,” explained OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has taken water samples from the river for testing. Results were expected to be available late Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Children & pets at increased risk

“People should avoid skin contact with water, as well as swallowing or inhaling water droplets, until results of tests are available,” Modie added. “Drinking water directly from the Willamette River could be especially dangerous.”

The toxins can not be removed by boiling, filtering or treating the water with camping-style filters but public drinking water systems can reduce algae toxins through proper filtration and disinfection. Health officials said anyone who draws in-home water directly from the Willamette River in the area should use an alternative water source until the advisory is lifted.

Toxins can cause serious illness, rash

Health experts said that exposure to toxins from blue-green algae can cause people to develop numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems, and require immediate medical attention. It can also cause diarrhea, nausea, cramps, fainting or trigger a rash.

Children and pets are at increased risk for exposure because of their size and level of activity.

Fish & shellfish may be tainted

Fish, clams, mussels, or crayfish from the affected water could possibly make people sick, too. Health officials said people wanting to eat fish should remove all fat, skin and organs before cooking it. As for crayfish, the muscle can be eaten, but internal organs and liquid fat should be discarded. It’s best just to avoid eating freshwater clams or mussels from the area.

The public will be advised when the concern no longer exists.

Help lines for more information:

In the meantime, anyone needing to discuss additional health concerns can contact the Oregon Health Authority at 971-673-0400.

Anyone wanting more information about algae sampling can contact the Department of Environmental Quality at 503-693-5723 or check the Harmful Algae Bloom website.

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