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Algae-related toxin found in Jordan River; Utahns warned to stay out of water

Residents should stay out of river, keep pets from drinking the water, health officials say

SALT LAKE CITY — With Labor Day on the horizon, health officials are warning people to stay out of the Jordan River after test results revealed levels of toxins that could pose a risk to humans and animals.

Salt Lake County Health Department received test results Monday that showed a low level of an algae-related toxin called anatoxin-a in the Jordan River, according to Jorge Mendez, county supervisor for water quality and hazardous waste.

The tested water came from the Jordan Narrows, where the river enters Salt Lake County.

Ducks swim in the water at Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray, dangerous algae has been located in the water on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018.
Ducks swim in the water at Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray, dangerous algae has been located in the water on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"For Labor Day weekend, we are definitely instructing parents and the public at large to prevent children and other individuals from entering the water," Mendez said. "This toxin can be harmful to your health — to people and animals."

Along with humans, county health officials are also warning dog owners against letting their pets swim or drink from the river. Kayaking and boating on the river should be fine, however, because toxin levels are not high enough to be dangerous at the surface of the water.

According to Mendez, if someone touches the affected water, they may experience skin irritations similar to an allergic reaction. If they ingest the water, people may experience headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, he said.

"At higher levels, this could be definitely of greater concern," Mendez said. "It is a neurotoxin" — a toxin that affects the nervous system.

A woman and kids feed ducks at Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Dangerous algae has been identified in the water.
A woman and kids feed ducks at Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Dangerous algae has been identified in the water.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Samples were also taken at Blackridge Reservoir in Herriman and at Wheeler Farm East Canal. Officials are advising caution on the entire river, though, since algae and toxins can spread and change quickly.

Mendez said more water was collected for testing Tuesday, but the results will not be determined until next week.

County officials do not expect to close any of the affected bodies of water as of Tuesday. Warning signs will be posted at popular recreation areas such as Wheeler Farm and Blackridge Reservoir.

As of Tuesday, people are not supposed to enter eight bodies of water across the state. Jordan River's findings add to a trend in the Beehive State that has increased in recent years.

"Over the past couple years, we've noticed the algae bloom increasing here in the state of Utah," Mendez said. "When we have more nutrients in the water from over-fertilizing, or herbicides that we use — either industry or homes — that can trigger a larger bloom."

Water runs in the creek at Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Dangerous algae has been identified in the water.
Water runs in the creek at Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Dangerous algae has been identified in the water.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Blue-green algae can be a natural part of many freshwater ecosystems, county officials said. Though, under the right conditions, they can expand rapidly. With a combination of high nutrient levels, warm temperatures and lots of sunlight, the calm water can encourage the algae to grow, creating blooms that can grow the dangerous toxins.

The danger seems to be highest at Utah Lake, however. Lindon Marina, Lincoln Beach and Lincoln Marina are all closed to the public due to the cyanobacteria cell-count concentrations found there. People are also warned to not swim or ingest the water at Utah Lake.

"The health department is concerned simply because we're around the corner from a holiday weekend and we want to make sure the public at large is aware of the risk of entering water that may be tainted with toxins," Mendez said.

For concerns about possible exposure, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or your local doctor.