Tri-Cities, WA Drinking water is safe despite toxic algae

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A poisonous algal bloom that paralyzed the Columbia River coast in Richland appears to remain nearby.

Of the 17 spots along the river tested so far, only Howard Amon’s jetty shows dangerous levels of neurotoxin A, said Rick Dawson, senior manager of the Benton Franklin Health District.

While 11 of the samples, including those from Chiawana Park, showed some levels of toxic algae, they did not rise to dangerous levels anywhere else.

The shoreline between the Howard Amon jetty and the Yakima River Delta will remain closed as the health district continues to monitor the situation.

“We are debating whether or not we can downsize that, but we haven’t found any reason to expand that area,” he told the Herald.

Yellow warning signs were placed along the river where the toxins were detected. And information has been posted wherever people can get in the water, Dawson said.

Drinking water test

Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland announced that drinking water was not affected by the neurotoxin.

Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco all get their city‘s drinking water directly from the Columbia River, and West Richland relies on Richland to provide 40 percent of its drinking water. As soon as the toxin was discovered in the river, cities increased their tests, according to a joint city press release on Thursday.

The results from the King County Environmental Lab show that the toxin has reached the sewage treatment plants, but is greatly reduced or eliminated after treating the water.

“The cities are working closely with (the Washington State Department of Health) to continuously analyze and optimize their treatment process to achieve maximum removal of any toxins that may be present,” the statement said.

City officials will continue to test the drinking water for toxins twice a week as long as there is evidence of the area.

Monitoring the river

Health officials plan to continue monitoring the river to make sure the algal bloom is not moving or spreading to other areas.

Then in winter they develop a plan for observing the waterways in spring and summer.

The health district found toxic algae in the river last week after four dogs died and two more fell sick after coming in contact with the water. Dawson said he didn’t know that the water made other animals sick.

Toxic algae are widespread in Scooteney Reservior in Franklin County. It was closed this summer for a bloom.

It is rare but not uncommon for poisonous algae to appear in river systems. That summer, four dogs died in the Spokane area after swimming in the Little Spokane River and the Spokane River, both of which had warm, slow-flowing, and stagnant water this summer.

State health officials have no answers as to why the poisonous algal bloom appeared in the Columbia River. However, the number of flowers has increased.

Dawson said that in those 35 years in public health, it first saw a prime five years ago. It is now a regular occurrence.

“This happens to be the first time we’ve found it in the Columbia River,” he said.

People can track test results on nwtoxicalgae.com and click “Find Lake”.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he attempts to answer readers’ questions about why cops and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.


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