Toxin that Contaminated Salem, Oregon's, Drinking Water in 2018 Discovered

June 20, 2022

The study found two types of cyanobacteria in Oregon’s Detroit Lake producing two different toxins

A study discovered the type of toxic algae that bloomed in Oregon's Detroit Lake in 2018 impacted drinking water in Salem.

According to OPB, Theo Dreher, emeritus professor of microbiology at Oregon State University, headed a team to collect samples from 10 lakes with risk of developing harmful algae blooms, analyzing the genetics of the blue-green algae in the samples.

The results were published here in the journal Harmful Algae.

“And that’s sort of important, because once you know that organism you can study it in isolation and start to look at the factors that lead to its massive growth in a bloom,” said Dreher about the research, reported OPB. “You really can’t get to the bottom of why these blooms are being produced without specific information.”

The study found two types of cyanobacteria in Oregon’s Detroit Lake producing two different toxins: cylindrospermopsin and an uncommon form of microcystin. Microcystin was also discovered in Odell Lake in the Cascades, Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon and Junipers Reservoir in Southern Oregon (where 30 steers died in 2017 from drinking the water), reported the study. 

Both toxins were found in Salem tap water in 2018, prompting health advisories due to the contaminated drinking water.

“It’s an ecological dysfunction that you can see from satellite images from space and is causing a lot of concern worldwide,” Deher added. “We’ve seen much more of these and much bigger events, more frequent events, longer events of visible blooms that are stinky and that can be toxic. The good news is that not every cyanobacterial bloom that occurs in our lakes is toxic, although it is always wise to follow the rule of avoiding contact when there’s green growth in the water.”

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Cristina Tuser

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