OHIO VALLEY — For many in the tri-county area of Mason, Gallia and Meigs, this coming Labor Day weekend is a time when activities are centered around the Ohio River.
Boating and swimming are often enjoyed as residents participate in the unofficial last hurrah of summer. In Point Pleasant, the “Tribute to the River” event is set for Friday and Saturday.
This year, however, a potentially dangerous situation may be lurking in the river water. People are being asked to use caution around the river, which contains an unusual amount of algae.
Diana Riddle, nurse administrator with the Mason County Health Department, said she received a telephone call from a Mason resident on Tuesday, reporting a large amount of algae near the boat launch at the Stewart-Johnson V.F.W./Lottie Jenks Memorial Park. Both she and Jeff Fowler, health department sanitarian, visited the area. While Riddle said it was bad in the Bend Area, she added it was mild there compared to the amount found at the Point Pleasant Riverfront Park, where boats were already docking for the tribute festivities.
Riddle stated not all algae is toxic, but one type in particular can be — blue-green algae blooms. Riddle said she has spoken with the state health department and was told the situation is being monitored.
According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR), Public Health Sanitation Division, you cannot tell if blue-green algae blooms are toxic by looking at it. The algae grows quickly when the water is warm, slow-moving and full of nutrients. When a bloom occurs, scum might form on the water’s surface.
The WVDHHR advises to protect your family and pets from the potentially toxic algae, don’t swim, water ski, or boat in areas where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum, or mats of algae on the water’s surface. Do not allow children or pets to play in or drink scummy water. Rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible afterwards, if you swim in water that might contain harmful algae blooms.
Dogs are more likely to get sick from toxins than people, according to the WVDHHR, because they will get in a body of water even if it looks or smells bad. Dogs are also more likely to drink the water that contains harmful algae.
Exposure to blue-green algae and its toxins can cause many health effects, according to the WVDHHR. Swallowing the water can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a bad taste in the mouth, acute hepatitis, jaundice, blood in the urine or dark urine, malaise, lethargy, headache, fever and loss of appetite. Muscle twitches and progressive muscle paralysis can also occur.
Skin contact symptoms include allergic dermatitis, including rash, itching and blisters, as well as conjunctivitis. Inhaling the toxins can cause upper respiratory irritation, such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.
There are no known antidotes to these toxins. Medical care is supportive, and anyone coming in contact with algae and having symptoms should report to a medical professional as soon as possible.
Riddle said she hopes people will really listen to the warnings and take the necessary precautions. She said she has sent information to local doctors, veterinarians, municipalities, and other agencies that people might contact with questions and concerns.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing and lives in Mason County.