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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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State, county investigating after dogs died following contact with waterways in Spokane area where blue-green algae was confirmed

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 8, 2021

Algae floats in Fernan Lake on Aug. 2.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Algae floats in Fernan Lake on Aug. 2. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

The state and county are advising the public to watch out for toxic blue-green algae in waterways after four dogs died following contact with water in the Spokane area where blooms were confirmed, according to a news release on Saturday.

The dogs died shortly after swimming in the area confirmed to have blue-green algae.

Three of them had been swimming in the Little Spokane River near Chattaroy, while one of the dogs went swimming in the Spokane River near the Harvard Road Bridge, the Washington State Department of Health said in the news release.

Pets are especially at risk of being exposed to potentially toxic levels of blue-green algae, simply because they usually don’t know any better.

“Dogs tend to drink river water or lick their fur after swimming, so they absorb more of it,” said Teresa McCallion, public information officer at Washington DOH.

Blue-green algae, despite the name, is actually not algae at all, but a large class of cyanobacteria that thrives in warm and stagnant waters. The bacteria produces dangerous toxins when in high enough concentrations.

Rivers are usually able to avoid blooms since the cyanobacteria struggles to coalesce in moving water, but the dry summer has reduced river flow in the state, according to the news release. That has created spots in rivers and streams that can be ripe for blooms.

“We are receiving reports of toxic algae blooms in areas we have not seen before,” said Scott Lindquist, acting chief science officer at the Washington State Department of Health.

Lindquist’s department is investigating the waterways with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Spokane Regional Health District following the dogs’ deaths.

It isn’t possible to determine how dangerous a bloom is to people and animals by looking at it, so areas should be avoided that show any signs of the cyanobacteria.

Blue-green algae will usually look like gobs of floating scum or greenish streaks of oil-like substance in the water.

Along with pets, children and the immunocompromised are also at particular risk of being exposed to toxic levels of cyanobacteria.

The Inland Northwest has been struck by blue-green algae this summer, with the Idaho Department of Health issuing public health advisories for Hayden and Fernan Lake in July.

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