Health Dept. explains algae concern

By Frank Lewis

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The Portsmouth City Health Department joined with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in warning people who boat or swim in the Ohio River of the potential for Blue-Green Algae in that river.

The state of Ohio has been working with the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), Kentucky and West Virginia to respond to reports of Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) on the Ohio River.

HAB is an algal bloom that causes negative impacts to other organisms via production of natural toxins, mechanical damage to other organisms, or by other means. HABs are often associated with large-scale marine mortality events and have been associated with various types of shellfish poisonings.

“It has all different kinds of effects on people,” Andy Gedeon, Director of Environmental Health for the Portsmouth Health Department, said. “It causes everywhere from nausea, vomiting and it can cause death if you inhale enough of it, or if you ingest enough of it. It could be as simple as a skin irritation. It all depends on what type of the bacteria and the level of the toxins.”

Gedeon said if water containing the algae is swallowed, it could result in the most severe reaction as opposed to simple skin contact. Gedeon said the algae is usually a result of a runoff from farm fields including the phosphorus and nitrogen in fertilizer and animal and human waste.

Ohioans are being told to avoid water that looks like spilled paint, has surface scums, mats or films, is discolored or has colored streaks or has green globs floating below the surface. If you or your pet comes in contact with Blue-Green Algae, rinse it off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible. If you plan to eat the fish you catch, remove the guts and liver, and rinse fillets in tap water before eating.

Other activities near the water such as camping, picnicking, biking and hiking are safe. If you are picnicking, wash your hands before eating if you have had contact with river water or shore debris.

Gedeon cautioned that while the EPA issued a warning for the Labor Day weekend, there should be no need for alarm after all.

“The level was way below where we would even release any public health advisory,” Gedeon said. “It’s only about a fourth of the one toxin that even showed up. The other three, according to the email we got from the EPA, didn’t even show up on the machines that were tested. The only kind of toxin that showed up is about a fourth of the public health advisory level.”

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.