Toxic blooms spotted in Devon

Environment Agency biologists have seen freshwater algae that can produce harmful toxins forming in Devon and have warned of the possibility of blooms occurring across the south west.

According to the Agency, recent warm weather conditions are perfect for the growth of blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, and blooms have been identified on the River Exe and the Dawlish Water in Devon. This type of algal bloom is capable of producing harmful toxins and the Department of Health has warned that skin rashes, eye irritation, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, pains in muscles and joints have occurred in people who have swallowed or swam through algal scum.

Although not always harmful, the Department of Health advises people to take sensible precautions to avoid contact with blue-green algae and the water close to it. In the past, these toxins have also been responsible for the death of farm animals and pet dogs, and vets from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) advise that farmers and pet owners should ensure their animals do not have access to affected water.

Blue-green algae are natural inhabitants of many inland waters and are only visible when they bind together to form clumps, usually in slow moving or still water and often looking like flakes of green sawdust or like brownish pinheads in the water. While the warm weather continues there is the chance of further blooms forming on rivers or lakes across the south west of England.

“Low river flows combined with the warm weather is activating the algae – encouraging their growth,” said Andy Rogers of the Environment Agency. “If anyone sees what they think might be an algal bloom they should contact the Agency as soon as possible so we can check it out.”

To report sightings of algal blooms the public can use the Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60. For advice regarding exposure to animals or pets people should contact MAFF or their local vet.

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