The Age
Mystery toxin discovery in water scare

Wednesday April 19


A mysterious algae, found to be toxic for the first time in the world, has been isolated as the source of a water health scare in South Australia.
SA Water chief scientist Don Bursill said the blue green algae called Phormidium had never before been found to be toxic.
But tests on mice yesterday revealed the algae discovered in a water storage facility on SA's Yorke Peninsula was toxic.
Professor Bursill said scientists needed to establish whether it was a mutant strain or a different variety of the algae causing the problem.
'Our information is from the literature ... that this organism has never been found to be toxic at all anywhere in this country or anywhere else in the world,' Prof Bursill said.
'We're looking at our options for trying to determine what this likely compound or compounds might be,' he said.
Prof Bursill said colleagues overseas had been contacted for advice on the algae.
Residents of 35 Yorke Peninsula towns were today receiving free supplies of bottled water.
The discovery prompted South Australia's Human Services Department to advise against the consumption of mains water and against its use for cleaning teeth or preparing food.
The Paskeville storage facility was taken out of service and clean filtered water was being flushed through the mains system from the Morgan water filtration plant in the Riverland.
Human Services executive director Brendan Kearney said the toxin associated with the algae was still to be identified along with its possible impact on human health.
But Professor Kearney said there had been no reports of any illness related to water consumption.
'We've undertaken surveys of general practice on the Yorke Peninsula and those surveys are not turning up any new or identifiable illnesses in the population,' he said.
SA Water chief executive officer Sean Sullivan said the utility was escalating the flushing program and hoped to have at least one area cleared by Friday in time for the arrival of tourists for the Easter weekend.
'The rest of the peninsula is going ahead with flushing as soon as is practically possible,' Mr Sullivan said.
'We're aiming to clear the eastern coastal tourist towns by Easter Friday.'
The affected area stretched from Moonta in the north to Yorketown in the south.
SA Water was continuing to operate a special hotline number to answer questions from residents and visitors on 1800 657 337.


Original article