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Health Warning – Algal Bloom in Selwyn/Waikirikiri River at Whitecliffs Domain and Glentunnel

The Community and Public Health division of the Canterbury District Health Board has issued a health warning after potentially toxic blue-green algae (benthic cyanobacteria) were found in Selwyn/Waikirikiri River at the Whitecliffs Domain and at Glentunnel.

People and animals, particularly dogs, should avoid the area of the Selwyn/Waikirikiri River at Whitecliffs Domain and Glentunnel until the health warning has been lifted.

Phormidium mats have been found in the river and some of these mats are detaching and accumulating at the sides of the river.

Dr Ramon Pink, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, says the algae 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. 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.”

The Selwyn District Council as the drinking water supplier is following agreed procedures to ensure its reticulated drinking water supplies are safe.

“No-one should drink the water from the river at any time, even after boiling the water from the river, it does not remove the toxin therefore should not be consumed,” Dr Pink says.

Pets should be taken to a vet immediately if they are showing signs of illness after coming into contact with algal mats.

People and animals 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
  • The algae 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 Environment Canterbury Swimming Water Quality or contact Community and Public Health on (03) 364 1777.

Last Changed: 05 Jan 2018

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