FDA issues warning about paralytic shellfish poisoning. Here's what to know.

FDA issues warning about paralytic shellfish poisoning. Here’s what to know.

Toxic algae blooms create unsafe water condition for humans and pets across SoCal

Toxic algae blooms create unsafe water condition for humans and pets across SoCal


Before you dig into that platter of freshly shucked oysters or baked clams at your favorite seafood restaurant, better make sure you know from where the shellfish originated. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to avoid eating shellfish from Oregon and Washington state because they may be contaminated with toxins that cause what’s known as paralytic shellfish poisoning. At least 31 people have been sickened in Oregon so far, according to state health officials. Here’s what to know about the FDA advisory.

What is the FDA warning about?

The FDA says to avoid oysters and bay clams harvested from Netarts and Tillamook bays in northern Oregon since May 28, as well as shellfish harvested from areas around Willapa Bay in southern Washington since May 26. They may be contaminated with high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, a naturally occurring toxin produced by algae.

the agency says on a webpage dedicated to explaining harmful algal blooms. Some blooms, it says, stem from “sluggish water circulation, unusually high water temperatures, and extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, and drought.”

Algae growth can also increase when nutrients used in fertilizers, mainly phosphorus and nitrogen, flow into bodies of water, according to the agency.

Oregon officials said it may take weeks, months or even up to a year for toxin levels to subside, depending on the type of shellfish.

Mussels can accumulate paralytic shellfish poison rapidly, but also rid themselves of it quickly, according to Hunter, the Oregon fish and wildlife official. Because of this, it may take anywhere from two weeks to a month for mussels to eliminate the toxin.

Razor clams, however, are slower to do so. It may take them several months to a year to cleanse themselves due to the current high levels of toxin, Hunter said.

Such high levels of paralytic shellfish poison haven’t been detected in Oregon in decades, according to Hunter, who cited a previous shellfish harvesting closure in the state in 1992. However, PSP has been prevalent in the regional waters for centuries, he said.

Impact on local fisheries

The harvesting closures may deal a blow to Pacific Northwest fisheries.

Oregon authorities on June qclosed its entire coastline to mussel harvesting after an “unprecedented” outbreak of PSP poisoning sickened at least 20 people. The harvesting of razor clams, bay clams and oysters was also shut down in parts of the coast. Elevated levels of toxins were first detected in shellfish on the state’s central and north coasts on May 17, Matthew Hunter, shellfish program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said during a briefing at the time.

Agriculture officials also closed commercial oyster harvesting in Netarts and Tillamook bays on the north coast of Oregon.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture says it will continue testing for shellfish toxins at least twice a month as tides and weather permit. Reopening an area closed for biotoxins requires two consecutive tests that show toxin levels are below a certain threshold, according to the agency.

The shellfish industry generates $270 million each year for the region’s economy, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and employs some 3,200 people.

Officials in neighboring Washington have also closed the state’s Pacific coastline to the harvesting of shellfish, including mussels, clams, scallops and oysters, a shellfish safety map produced by the Washington State Department of Health showed.

Source: cbsnews.com