Toxic algae found near Tri-Cities. Lake closed for fishing, boating and swimming

Jennifer King/
·2 min read

Toxic algae has been found near the Tri-Cities. The Department of Ecology has found cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in the Burbank area.

The algae was discovered at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge in Walla Walla County. The refuge is a popular spot for waterfowl hunters because of its use by migratory birds.

The bacteria can be fatal to both people and animals, according to the Walla Walla Department of Community Health.

Due to toxicity levels, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has closed the lake at the refuge out of an abundance of caution, according to a news release.

People and animals can be exposed to cyanotoxins by swimming or doing other activities in the water, drinking water containing toxins, breathing in tiny droplets in the air that contain toxins, or eating fish or shellfish that contain toxins, according to the Department of Community Health.

Symptoms of exposure can include stomach pain, headaches, neurological symptoms such as muscle weakness and dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea and liver damage.

Anyone visiting McNary should avoid swimming, fishing, boating or any other water-related activities until toxicity levels are deemed safe. The toxin can remain the water for a week after the bloom is gone.

While the lake does not directly connect to the Columbia or Snake rivers, it is nearby and numerous smaller bodies of water are found between the lake and Snake River. Last year toxic algae was found in the Columbia River for the first time.

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Best practices

People who see water in Benton and Franklin counties that could be toxic algae — not just in the Columbia River but also the Snake and Yakima rivers — can report it to the Benton Franklin Health District, which will be doing additional testing if problems are suspected. Call 509-460-4205.

You should avoid water that looks, foamy, scummy, pea green, is thick like paint, is blue green or is reddish, according to the health district.

There is no way to be sure whether the water is toxic without testing.

Exposure to people and animals can occur from swimming in the water, with symptoms such as irritation to skin eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

People area advised to immediately rinse off themselves and their pets after exposure to possibly contaminated water.

Swallowing contaminated water could cause symptoms such as stomach pain, headache, vomiting and muscle weakness or dizziness. Seeking medical attention is recommended.

People also are advised not to fish until a couple of weeks after an algae bloom. If you plan to eat fish caught from lakes with algae blooms, remove the guts and liver and rinse fillets before eating, says the health district.

To check for places in Washington state with current algae blooms, go to Information also can be found on the Benton Franklin Health District website,, by searching for “toxic algae.”

Reporter Annette Cary contributed to this report.