Algae health alert issued for parts of Lake Billy Chinook

HIgh toxin levels found, caution urged in water

CULVER, Ore. - A health advisory for high levels of blue-green algae and the toxins they produce was issued Friday for parts of Lake Billy Chinook, located about 12 miles west of Madras in Jefferson County.

The advisory boundaries are different for each arm of the lake, officials said, and are as follows: 

-- The Metolius River Arm--From Perry South Campground to the northern tip of Chinook Island. 
-- The Deschutes River Arm--All areas in and around Cove Palisades State Park, the day use areas and boat docks. 
-- The Crooked River Arm--All areas in and around the Jefferson County day use area past Cove Palisades Resort and Marina to the confluence of the Deschutes River Arm. 

Water monitoring conducted by Jefferson County in several areas of Lake Billy Chinook managed by the county and state have confirmed the presence of blue-green algae and the toxins they produce. These toxin concentrations can be harmful to humans and animals.

The portion of the advisory for Perry South Campground, owned and managed by the U. S. Forest Service, is based on visible scum identified by Forest Service staff; visible scum is considered a reason for issuing an advisory, pending toxin results, to protect public health. 

Officials said people should avoid swallowing water while swimming or inhaling water droplets as a result of high-speed water activities, such as water skiing or power boating, in areas where blooms are identified. Although toxins are not absorbed through the skin, people who have skin sensitivities may experience a puffy, red rash at the affected area. 

Drinking water directly from these areas of Lake Billy Chinook at this time is especially dangerous. Oregon public health officials advise campers and other recreational visitors that toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering or treating water with camping-style filters. 

People who draw in-home water directly from the affected area are advised to use an alternative water source because private treatment systems are not proven effective for removing algae toxins. However, public drinking water systems can reduce algae toxins through proper filtration and disinfection.

If people connected to public water systems have questions about treatment and testing, they should contact their water supplier. If community members have questions about water available at nearby campgrounds or day use areas, they should contact campground management. 

Oregon health officials recommend that those who choose to eat fish from waters where algae blooms are present remove all fat, skin and organs before cooking, as toxins are more likely to collect in these tissues. Fillets should also be rinsed with clean water.

Public health officials also advise people to not eat freshwater clams or mussels from Lake Billy Chinook and that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations do not allow the harvest of these shellfish from freshwater sources. Crayfish muscle can be eaten, but internal organs and liquid fat should be discarded. 

Exposure to toxins can produce a variety of symptoms including numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems, and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should also receive medical attention if they persist or worsen.

Children and pets are at increased risk for exposure because of their size and level of activity. People who bring their pets to these areas of Lake Billy Chinook for recreation activities should take special precautions to keep them from drinking from or swimming in these areas. 

The advisory will be lifted when the concern no longer exists. 

With proper precautions to avoid activities during which water can be ingested, people are encouraged to visit these areas of Lake Billy Chinook and enjoy activities such as canoeing, fishing, camping, hiking, biking, picnicking, and bird watching. Boating is safe as long as speeds do not create excessive water spray. Although inhalation risk is much lower than ingestion, it can present a risk. 

For health information or to report an illness, contact the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) at 971-673-0400. For campground or lake information call the local management agency. 

OHA maintains an updated list of all health advisories on its website. To learn if an advisory has been issued or lifted for a specific water body, visit the Harmful Algae Blooms website at and select "algae bloom advisories," or call the Oregon Public Health Division toll-free information line at 1-877-290-6767. 

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