What’s toxic algae and could it really have killed an entire California family hiking near Yosemite?
California officials report that toxic algae is being investigated as a possible cause of the recent deaths of a family of three who had been hiking in a remote part of the state’s Yosemite National Park. Tests confirm that dangerous anatoxins from a kind of algae called cyanobacteria are present in a river near the hiking trail where the three were found. Taylor Weiss, a Fulton Schools assistant professor of environmental and resource management, and an algae expert, says not all algae are harmful, but some can bloom quickly and produce toxins dangerous to people and animals. Cyanobacteria is the most common. Weiss says anatoxin breaks down quickly and easily and doesn’t stay in body tissues for long, making it difficult for toxicology tests to confirm if algae contributed to the deaths. Today, environmental resource managers and water regulatory officials are being taught more about potential dangers from algae, so safety measures should be improving, he says.