Washington State health
officials issue shellfish harvest warning because of high "red tide" biotoxin
July 26, 1999
OLYMPIA (SafetyAlerts) State health officials in Washington
announced that potentially deadly levels of the naturally occurring marine biotoxin
Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) are being found in shellfish in numerous areas from the
Canadian border to Steilacoom in Pierce County and in Willapa Bay.
PSP is a natural marine toxin produced by a type
of plankton, commonly called "red tide." The variety of PSP-producing plankton
found in the Northwest usually does not color the water red. A person who eats molluscan
shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops) that have absorbed high levels of the toxin
can become ill within minutes of eating.
The symptoms usually begin with tingling of the
mouth and tongue. Severe poisoning can result in dizziness; numbness, tingling, or
paralysis in arms and legs; paralysis of the muscles used for breathing; and death.
PSP is not destroyed by cooking. There is no known
antidote for PSP toxin. Crab and shrimp do not accumulate hazardous levels of PSP, but
moon snails can.
Commercially harvested shellfish are monitored for
PSP and not released to the market when elevated levels are detected or suspected.
"In conjunction with commercial shellfish growers, local health agencies, and
volunteer samplers, we have increased our PSP monitoring," said Frank Cox, biotoxin
program coordinator for the state Department of Healths Office of Food Safety and
Shellfish Programs. "Any commercially harvested shellfish undergoes thorough testing
for PSP and is safe to eat. However, recreational harvesters must check with our hotline
or web site postings to determine the status of the public beaches they plan to
Recreational shellfish harvesters are warned to
check whether an area in which they wish to harvest is currently open. Harvesters should
also look for and obey warning signs that might be posted on beaches. However, lack of
warning signs on a beach are no assurance an area is safe for shellfish harvesting.
Contact your local health departments environmental health division for more
In addition, a seasonal closure is in place on all
Pacific Ocean beaches and the Strait of Juan de Fuca because of high levels historically
found from April through October. Levels of PSP remain safe in Hood Canal, Grays Harbor,
and some parts of Puget Sound.
Information on closed harvesting areas can be
obtained by calling the Washington State Department of Healths biotoxin hotline at
1-800-562-5632, or by checking the departments web site at www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm.
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