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Health warning for Hurunui River at State Highway 1

MEDIA RELEASE

February 26, 2014

Health warning for Hurunui River at State Highway 1

The Community and Public Health division of the Canterbury District Health Board have issued a health warning after potentially toxic blue-green algae (benthic cyanobacteria) were found in the Hurunui River at State Highway 1.

People and animals, particularly dogs, should avoid the water in the Hurunui River at SH1 until the health warning has been lifted. 

Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, says the cyanobacteria look like dark brown to black mats and can produce toxins harmful to people and animals.

“Exposure may cause skin rashes, nausea, stomach cramps, tingling and numbness around the mouth and fingertips,” Dr Humphrey says.

“If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your doctor immediately, also let your doctor know if you’ve had contact with dark brown/black algal mats or water in this area.”

Boiling the water from the river does not remove the toxin and therefore should not be consumed, Dr Alistair Humphrey says.

Animals that show signs of illness after coming into contact with algal mats should be taken to a vet immediately.

People should remain out of the waterways until the warnings have been lifted.

Environment Canterbury is monitoring the sites and the public will be advised of any changes in water quality.

Facts about cyanobacteria:

• Appears as dark brown/black mats attached to rocks along the riverbed.
• Cyanobacteria occur naturally but can increase rapidly during warmer months.
• It often has a strong musty smell and algal toxin concentrations can vary over short periods with changing environmental conditions.
• Although high river levels will remove the algal bloom, detached mats can accumulate along the shore and increase the risk of exposure to toxins.
• If a health warning is in place avoid contact with the water.
• Although district or city councils may place warning signs, these may not be seen at the numerous river access points, hence the need for people/ dog-walkers to treat every low-flowing river cautiously.

For further information visit http://ecan.govt.nz/services/online-services/monitoring/swimming-water-quality/Pages/river-warnings.aspx
Or contact Community and Public Health on (03) 364 1777.

ENDS

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