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Whetstone Pond is latest to develop toxic algae

WHITE CITY — People and pets should steer clear of Whetstone Pond after the discovery of a blue-green algae bloom there similar to one blamed for killing a dog Monday along the South Umpqua River, authorities warned Tuesday.

The pond, on the Denman Wildlife Area off East Gregory Road, developed an intense bloom over the weekend of the greenish scum commonly associated with algae outbreaks that can produce toxins dangerous to humans and pets.

Health officials issued the advisory after viewing photographs of the bloom, which was similar to a bloom that caused a 48-day advisory against water contact at Whetstone last year, said Dan VanDyke of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which owns the pond.

"It looked exactly like it did — if not worse than — last year," VanDyke said. "So we're giving the public a head's up."

Water tests are planned today.

Under Department of Human Services protocols, a voluntary advisory can be ordered after a visual inspection or photographs, but water managers are required to test for the algae within one day, said Marina Counter, a research analyst in the DHS Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance Program.

That was the same protocol used to issue an advisory against water contact in the South Umpqua at Lawson Bar near Canyonville, where a dog apparently suffered from algae-induced convulsions Monday and had to be euthanized at a nearby veterinarian's office.

The dog, a 6-month-old black Labrador, was one of two dogs playing in the water at the bar for about an hour Monday, Counter said.

Almost immediately after leaving the water, the dog showed some tell-tale signs of toxin exposure, such as hyper-salivation, loss of balance and vomiting, Counter said.

The dog was rushed to the vet and was euthanized after its conditions deteriorated, Counter said.

The dog's owner said the puppy was otherwise healthy, Counter said. The other dog, a 11/2;-year-old Labrador, showed no signs of illness, she said.

Toxin tests were ordered on the water sampled from the bar and from the dog's internal organs to confirm whether toxins associated with the algae — which is a form of cyanobacteria — caused the severe illness, Counter said.

If confirmed, it would be the second dog in two years whose death was linked to toxins present in an algae bloom. The other occurred in August 2009 along the Umpqua River near Elkton.

No confirmed human illnesses have been tied to the algae in Oregon.

Symptoms of toxic algae exposure, which require immediate medical attention, include numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems. Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should also receive medical attention if they persist or worsen. Children and pets are particularly susceptible.

Swallowing or inhaling water droplets should be avoided, as well as skin contact with water by humans or animals. Fishermen at Whetstone are urged to practice catch-and-release fishing during the advisory because toxins can be stored in the fatty tissue of fish.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.