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High levels of toxin in Zion National Park algae bloom, state says

Zion NPS algae bloom
Posted at 12:39 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-13 18:58:00-04

SALT LAKE CITY — New lab results show very high levels of toxins inside an algal bloom found at Zion National Park, state environmental officials told FOX 13 on Monday.

The results, which came from independent lab tests, came back showing a "concerning" level of toxins inside the algal bloom. State and National Park Service officials issued warnings Friday night after lab results confirmed a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) had killed a dog July 4 in the North Fork of the Virgin River.

"The levels of toxins are higher than the recreational use threshold we have in the state," said Jared Mendenhall, a spokesman for Utah's Department of Environmental Quality. "That has triggered warnings on the river."

The National Park Service said water sample results showed anatoxin-a concentration greater than 55 micrograms per liter in some samples. The health threshold for primary recreation from the Utah Department of Health and DWQ is 15 micrograms per liter.

This strain of bacteria found in this water has never produced toxins before in Utah, Mendenhall said, but has been found in other states. HABs can be naturally occurring, but can also be caused by pollutants in the water and climate change, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The DEQ monitors a number of water bodies across the state for HABs to protect people and animals. HABs can be fatal to animals and can make humans very sick.

So far, DEQ said it has not found any signs of toxins in the drinking water or agricultural water supplies. In Zion National Park, signs have gone up warning people about the dangers.

"You want to keep your pets away from the water in the North Fork where the signs are. you also want to be sure that you're not submerging yourself in that water," Mendenhall said. "Wading is probably fine, but you don't want to get it in your mouth. You also don't want to be drinking it. These toxins are not filtered out by your standard backpacking filter. You want to stay away from the water with those issues."

Utah's Department of Agriculture and Food has been warning ranchers and farmers in the area to keep their livestock away from the water.

Additional information on the Harmful Algal Bloom can be found here.