Hitting the water for eclipse weekend? Watch out for toxic algae, health officials warn

File photo of blue-green algae

PORTLAND, Ore. – Health officials are reminding people to be aware of harmful algae blooms in local waterways as people pour into Oregon to see the total solar eclipse.

The Oregon Health Authority said there are several active warnings for algae blooms that produce toxins and pose health risks to people and pets.

Not all algae blooms are toxic, but officials said there is no way to tell if the water is toxic without testing samples in a lab.

“Because only a fraction of Oregon's fresh waters are visually monitored and sampled when blooms occur, people shouldn't count on being notified about all harmful algae blooms, especially on water bodies not considered high-use for recreation, or those not used for public drinking water,” the authority said in a statement Wednesday.

If you are going to hit the water for the eclipse, here are some signs to watch out for:

  • The water smells bad
  • Appears foamy or scummy, or thick like paint
  • Has pea-green, blue-green or brownish-red color

The toxins cannot be removed if you boil the water, so don’t drink or cook with it.

Avoid swimming or water sports, because swallowing or inhaling droplets can cause health problems.

Although toxins are not absorbed through the skin, people who have skin sensitivities may experience a puffy, red rash at the affected area, according to health officials. Oregon health officials recommend that those who choose to eat fish from waters where algae blooms are present remove all fat, skin and organs before cooking, as toxins are more likely to collect in these tissues.

Description of toxic symptoms from the Oregon Health Authority:

Exposure to toxins can produce a variety of symptoms including numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems, and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should also receive medical attention if they persist or worsen. Children and pets are at increased risk for exposure because of their size and level of activity. People who bring their pets to these areas of Lake Billy Chinook for recreation activities should take special precautions to keep them from drinking from or swimming in these areas.

The advisory will be lifted when the concern no longer exists.

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