News Feature | June 8, 2018

Oregon Regulators Take Aim At Cyanotoxins

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,


Health regulators in Oregon are creating new regulations to protect drinking water from cyanotoxins.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is going to require routine testing for cyanotoxins, with the added requirement that the public must be notified of the results, The Statesman Journal reported.

“State health officials hope to install temporary rules by the end of the month that will require local officials to notify the public of test results,” KTVZ reported.

The new rules come on the heels of the discovery of cyanotoxins in the drinking water in Salem, OR, The Statesman Journal previously reported.

“Salem's tap water was contaminated by enough cyanotoxins to potentially harm children under 6 years old and some adults with compromised immune systems,” the newspaper reported.

Algae blooms on Detroit Lake caused the issue, the newspaper added. Testing had not previously been required in Oregon, although Salem officials did make a habit of such testing, KTVZ reported.

The drinking water alert said bottled water should be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, and making food for anyone under age 6.

“There are about 185,000 people who live in the cities that draw their municipal drinking water from the North Santiam River, not including farms in rural communities that draw water from the river,” the report said.

According to Statesman Journal, an OHA statement noted that the new rules are specifically focused on "major drinking water systems in the state using certain surface water sources, such as those prone to regular blue-green algae blooms, to routinely test for cyanotoxins that blue-green algae blooms produce and provide public notification on the results of those tests.”

Why is algae increasingly a challenge?

At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on cyanotoxins, an official from the American Water Works Association, explained the origin of the algae problem several years ago.

“There is no uncertainty about one critical aspect of the problem: It is always associated with amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water,” the official said, per Roll Call. “Although each watershed is unique and has its own mix of nutrient sources, across the nation the most prominent uncontrolled sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are non-point sources — that is, runoff. These sources are at the same time both the hardest to manage and the furthest from being subject to meaningful federal regulatory authority.”

Image credit: "Ohio Algae," Ben Townsend © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: