Health warning – Selwyn Waikirikiri River at Whitecliffs Domain

Monday February 20, 2017

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

People and animals, particularly dogs, should avoid the area of the Selwyn River at Whitecliffs Domain 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 Alistair Humphrey, 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," Dr Humphrey says.

"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 are following agreed procedures to ensure their 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 Humphrey says.

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

"People and animals should remain out of the waterways until the warnings have been lifted."

Environment Canterbury is monitoring the site 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 https://www.ecan.govt.nz/your-region/your-environment/water/swimming-water-quality/

​​​Or contact Community and Public Health on (03) 364 1777.

Page last reviewed: 20 February 2017
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