The Age
Water toxin baffles SA scientists


Thursday 20 April 2000

Authorities are still baffled by the algal bloom threatening one of South Australia's most popular tourist regions.

SA Water, the state's water authority, is struggling to identify the toxin that has made water undrinkable in a large proportion of Yorke Peninsula.

The cause of the contamination has been isolated to the Paskeville water storage facility and the algae identified as a phormidium, part of the blue-green algae family.

SA Water was alerted to a potential problem last Friday when residents complained about the taste and smell of the mains water. Samples yesterday revealed the toxic nature of the algae. The Paskeville water store was taken out of use on Friday and filtered water from the Morgan water filtration plant has been introduced.

About 10,000 to 15,000 residents of the middle and lower peninsula were told late on Tuesday not to drink, cook with, brush their teeth with or gargle the water until further notice. The warnings have since been widened to include livestock, such as cattle, pigs and sheep. Farmers have been told that alternate clean water sources such as dams or bores should be used.

The algae symptoms are unknown, but the most likely are diarrhoea, vomiting and headaches.

The senior microbiologist for the Department of Human Services, Dr David Cunliffe, said because scientists were having trouble identifying the toxin, proposing a treatment was difficult.

"The toxin is new and we really don't know much about it at all ... It was quite unexpected because that species is generally regarded as not being toxic."

Residents are angry with SA Water for not telling them earlier of the possible threat to their health. Many heard the warning from media sources.

Original article