The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health (BPH) is issuing this Public Health Advisory as efforts continue to observe and monitor the movement of blue-green algae on the Ohio River and some of its tributaries. Although many species of algae do not produce toxins and are vitally important to marine and fresh-water ecosystems, some species of blue-green algae can cause harmful algal blooms (HABs).
Blue-green algal blooms have been observed and monitored by BPH on the ground and from the air between Pike Island Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near Wheeling, W.Va., downriver to the Kentucky border. Visual monitoring and sampling of the Ohio River is ongoing between agencies in the states of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia in coordination with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO).
“The Bureau for Public Health is continuing to work with public water systems and local health departments, as well as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, along the Ohio River to be vigilant in monitoring the water supply,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Commissioner and State Health Officer for the Bureau for Public Health. “Citizens are encouraged to be advised of the possible occurrence of harmful algal blooms in waters where they may be fishing, swimming, boating or recreating.”
Public water systems are being advised to remain vigilant and tests performed, where appropriate, have been acceptable.
Citizens should be proactive in avoiding water that:
• Looks like spilled paint
• Has surface scums, mats or films
• Is discolored or has colored streaks
• Has green globs floating below the surface
The following guidelines are recommended to avoid exposure to HABs:
• Direct contact with affected water -- including swimming, wading, fishing, paddling, diving and water skiing -- may result in symptoms. Avoid swallowing river or lake water.
• Prevent pets and livestock from coming into contact or ingesting water containing algal blooms.
• People who are prone to respiratory allergies or asthma should avoid areas with algal blooms. Children may be particularly sensitive.
• If contact has been made with water containing algal blooms, wash off with clean water. In some cases, skin irritation will appear after prolonged exposure. If symptoms persist, consult your health care provider.
• Fish fillets (not organs) may be consumed after the fillets have been rinsed in clean water.
Local health departments may issue a No Contact Advisory when toxin levels are equal to or exceed the advisory threshold and there are one or more probable cases of human illness or pet deaths attributable to the toxin.
In conjunction with ORSANCO, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Kentucky Division of Water, West Virginia DEP and local health departments, BPH will continue to actively monitor the situation.
Information about HABs may be found online at www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph or by calling your local health department. Water sampling test results may be found at www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph