"Deadly ‘killer algae’ found in California," scientists warn

Jano le Roux

"Allowing your child to swim in these algae-infested California lakes is like nuking your child," Dr. Rivera California water safety advisory specialist shares. The California State Water Resources Control Board and Mariposa County retested toxic algae in the Sierra National Forest on Thursday, which is now being investigated as a possible cause of a family’s unexplained deaths this week.

On Wednesday, the state agency got a report of deaths along the Merced River’s south branch, approximately 2.6 miles above the main stem.

John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their daughter Miju, and the family dog, Oski, were discovered dead in this region on Tuesday after missing a day walk in the Hites Cove area of Devil’s Gulch, between Mariposa and Yosemite National Park, between Mariposa and Yosemite National Park.

A blue-green algae species – Cylindrospermum – under magnification.Adelaide laboratories of CSIRO Land and Water

The family may have been exposed to cyanobacterial toxins, which can develop in algal blooms, according to the water board.

“While there has been speculation that the deaths were caused by harmful algal blooms (HABs) in a remote river or lake, we are not aware of any such evidence at this time,” said Mrs. Robertson, a spokesman for the State Water Board. “Our team is testing the waterways near where the bodies were discovered, and we will make the lab results public as soon as we receive them. Autopsies were supposed to be done earlier today, and we’re waiting for the results. Our heartfelt sympathies to the deceased’s family and friends.”

According to a state website, water from Bottom Lake tested as part of a pre-holiday assessment on Aug. 27 revealed a “significant harmful algal bloom.” Toxins were also found in the other two lakes in the park, prompting the closure of the lakes and the posting of warning signs.

The warnings forbid humans and dogs from fishing or coming into touch with the water. Visitors are also advised not to touch the scum on the beach or consume fish or shellfish caught in the lakes.

The water from the lakes should not be consumed, and boiling or filtering it will not make it safe, according to the warning.

Toxins may cause skin rashes, eye discomfort, diarrhea, and vomiting in humans. Toxins may also cause convulsions and death in animals.

Even though ducks were swimming about in the lakes on Monday, Aug. 30, blue-green algal blooms, commonly known as cyanobacteria, may be deadly to them, according to Robertson.

Mrs. Gann, a spokesperson for San Bernardino County Parks, noted that harmful algal blooms occur on occasion.

“The algae is cyclic when the water warms up in the summer and early fall,” she said.

Yucaipa Regional’s lakes are now the only ones in Southern California in the red, or “danger” category, according to the state’s three advisory levels.

The next highest grade, orange, or caution, includes Pyramid and Big Bear lakes. Fish caught there may be eaten as long as fishermen discard the intestines and clean the fillets with fresh water. This means no swimming or drinking the water, and pets should not be let in.

According to the state’s website, the algae exists naturally, but it may produce hazardous chemicals. When blooms create a green, blue, yellow, red, or brown scum on the water’s surface, it’s simple to see them. When they float under the surface or at the bottom of a lake, they are more difficult to identify.

Harmful algal blooms are caused by stagnant water, prolonged high temperatures, and excessive nutrients from fertilizers or human or animal waste.

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