Don’t swim, splash, waterski, or motorboat in the Willamette River near St. Johns, health officials warn

People should not swim, waterski or motorboat in the Willamette River near the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland due to an overgrowth of toxic cyanobacteria, state health officials warned Friday.

The warning applies to the Willamette from Cathedral Park south to the Willamette Cove area just north of the St. Johns Railroad Bridge.

People should avoid swimming and high-speed water activities, such as waterskiing or motorboating, in areas of the river where blooms are present, as ingesting water containing cytotoxins poses a risk. serious for human health, officials said.

Drinking water from areas of the river affected by a bloom is particularly dangerous, they warned. Toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering, or treating water with camping type filters.

Children and pets are at increased risk of exposure due to their size and activity level. Dogs can become seriously ill and even die minutes to hours after being exposed to cyanotoxins by drinking water, licking their fur, or eating the toxins from floating mats or dried crust along the shore.

The toxins are not absorbed through the skin, they said. But people with skin sensitivities may get a puffy red rash, they said.

The flowers, which are most often bright green, typically form in warm, slow-moving water rich in nutrients from sources such as fertilizer runoff.

Health officials are warning people not to splash or swim in the Willamette River near St. Johns due to toxic bacteria. The US National Office for Harmful Algal Blooms offers this photo of Lake Erie as an example of what the cytotoxin can look like.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cyanobacterial blooms can look like foam, scum, or carpets, especially when the wind blows them toward a shore. The flowers can be blue, bright green, brown or red. They sometimes look like paint floating on the surface of water. As the cyanobacteria die in a bloom, the water can smell bad, similar to rotting plants.

Public health officials plan to continue collecting samples next week to better define the duration and geographic scope of the health warning. People should be aware that the bloom and associated toxins can originate upstream from Willamette Cove and spread downstream past Cathedral Park, officials said.

The Oregon Health Authority recommends people watch for visible signs of bloom in other areas of the river and stay out of the water in areas where scum is visible.

Boating is safe in affected areas as long as speeds do not create noticeable jets of water. Sprays could pose the risk of inhalation of cyanotoxins.

Exposure to cyanotoxins can cause a range of symptoms. Symptoms may resemble those of food poisoning such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms can also be more severe, such as numbness, tingling, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. These symptoms may require medical attention.

Dogs can experience weakness, difficulty walking, seizures, lethargy, loss of appetite and more. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms after swimming, see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Fish caught in areas where cyanobacterial blooms are present may pose unknown health risks. Fat, skin and organs should be removed before cooking or freezing. The fillets should also be rinsed with clean water.

For health information or to report illness, contact the OHA at 971-673-0482.

–Betsy Hammond; [email protected]

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