DEQ testing for blue-green algae in Willamette River

Green matter floating in river near Ross Island Bridge

Green matter floating in the Willamette River September 16, 2014. (KOIN 6)
Green matter floating in the Willamette River September 16, 2014. (KOIN 6)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is testing for blue-green algae in the Willamette River after green matter was noticed floating in the water near the Ross Island Bridge.

DEQ spokesperson Aaron Borisenko said the bloom sitting atop the river’s surface is some kind of algae, but whether or not it is the unhealthy blue-green strain is still undetermined.

Still, officials are advising people to stay out of the water.

The OHA issued a health advisory late Tuesday afternoon “based on visual observation of scum on the Willamette River.” The scum extends from the southern end of Ross Island downstream to the Fremont Bridge in Multnomah County.

Green matter floating in the Willamette River September 16, 2014. (KOIN 6)
Green matter floating in the Willamette River September 16, 2014. (KOIN 6)

“It’s probably at least a couple thousand feet of river bank along the channel,” said Larry Caton, who was out collecting samples for the OHA Tuesday evening.

Borisenko said it will take between 24 and 48 hours to determine which type of algae it is.

Caton added that the good new is that the algae hasn’t invaded the river’s main stem.

When in doubt, stay out 

The Oregon Health Authority advises not to enter water that is “foamy, scummy, or thick like paint, pea-green, blue-green, or browning red.” The OHA also recommends keeping your pet out of this water.

The slogan “when in doubt, stay out” applies. Even when an advisory is not in place, beware of the signs of potential blue-green algae blooms.

Willamette River Keeper Executive Director Travis Williams said in three years, he has not seen algae this widespread.

Meanwhile, Dragon Sports USA cancelled their practice for the second day in a row.

Sign up for email alerts on blue-green algae from the Oregon Health Authority here. 

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae is caused by a single-cell bacteria called cyanobacteria.

Not all blooms are harmful, but some species of the bacteria produce toxins that can cause serious illness or death in pets, livestock and wildlife, and can cause sickness or rash in humans, according to the Oregon Health Authority. It is impossible to tell whether a bloom is toxic until the bloom tests positive for toxins.

Swallowing the water can result in headaches, cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, numbness, dizziness and fever.

Currently, there are no blue-green algae advisories listed for Multnomah County.

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