The cities of Wilsonville and Sherwood are awaiting further test results after “trace levels” of a toxin produced by blue-green algae were discovered in a treated water sample.
Wilsonville city staff reported receiving the positive test for microcystin, a cyanotoxin produced by cyanobacteria, on Thursday afternoon. The city of Sherwood obtains its drinking water from the Wilsonville-Willamette River Water Treatment Plant.
“No one is oblivious to the fact that there is a heightened sense of awareness around water quality,” Bill Evans, Wilsonville’s communications manager said.
The city of Salem has been under a tap water advisory since Tuesday due to low levels of cyanotoxins in the water supply.
An additional sample from Wilsonville was rushed to a laboratory in Seattle on Friday morning for more thorough testing.
“As soon as we knew, we were consulting with OHA and EPA on these types of methods. And we had done all our own research, as well, to see is there something we can do as a precautionary measure just to get ahead of this if there is something there,” Jason LaBrie, the Wilsonville Utilities Supervisor, told FOX 12.
LaBrie said, in response to the toxin, they’ve made changes to chemical dosing and other processes at the treatment plant.
The city of Wilsonville released a statement Friday saying results are expected back Monday. Based on the results of that test, the city will determine if a public advisory is necessary pursuant to state and federal guidelines.
Though the toxin level is not high enough to warrant a water advisory yet, people are still on high alert.
“It was a big surprise, yes,” Delora Kerber, the public works director in Wilsonville said. “We weren’t looking for it. It wasn’t an area of concern. There was no notification that there was algal bloom that we would be aware of.”
If necessary, city staff stated a public advisory would likely apply to children younger than 6 years old, anyone with a compromised immune system, anyone receiving dialysis treatment, people with pre-existing liver conditions and women who are pregnant or nursing.
“The Environmental Protection Agency strongly recommends obtaining results from a confirmation sample prior to issuing a public advisory,” according to the city of Wilsonville.
“We’re being abundantly cautious here, and providing information that allows our community members to make an informed decision,” said City Manager Bryan Cosgrove. “We’re diligently following protocols put in place by the EPA as well as recommendations from state and local authorities, and will put out an advisory if we receive confirmation that we’re above acceptable levels.”
While there’s no advisory yet, city officials say they alerted schools and other vulnerable populations first.
A parent of a student in the Sherwood School District, DeeDee Sullivan, said she received an alert from her son’s school two hours before any notice from the city of Wilsonville.
“It’s unnerving because, it’s like, what if something else comes up and they don’t tell us? We should be able to make the choice for our children, our family is what we want to do,” Sullivan said. “I will admit, I texted my son and said, ‘Don’t drink the water until we figure out what’s going on.’”
As a precaution, the district distributed water to schools with children under six years old.
Officials are unsure how long it could take this toxin to die off if levels increase.
Even so, it remains all hands on deck at the Water Treatment Plant, with operators doing daily samples out of an abundance of caution.
Boiling water is not an effective method of removing cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxins are not absorbed through the skin, so daily tasks like washing hands, bathing, cleaning dishes, and laundry pose no health risk.
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