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Toxin levels at Barton Creek's Sculpture Falls see large decline

Levels detected in October are now lower than the EPA's guidance for recreational use.

AUSTIN, Texas — After sending out an alert in September that potentially dangerous algae toxin levels were discovered at Sculpture Falls at Barton Creek, the Austin Watershed Department is now reporting a significant decrease.

Cylindrospermopsin is one of many cyanotoxins produced by cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. Concerning levels were detected in samples collected on Sept. 9. But recently, two water samples have shown much lower levels.

The highest reading was 81 micrograms of cylindrospermopsin per liter in late September. However, two consecutive readings in October were 0.1 and 0.01 micrograms per liter. For recreational use, the EPA's guidance value is 15 micrograms per liter.

"It is possible that the higher toxin levels or a different cyanotoxin will return without warning in the future," the department said. "This is more likely when the flow drops. People should use caution and avoid swimming if the water is warm, if it appears stagnant, if there’s scum or film on the water or if there are mats of algae. This is true for other natural water bodies as well."

Officials urge residents to avoid swimming in the waters after heavy rainfall, which is when bacteria levels can be the highest. There can also be physical dangers, such as debris, uneven depths, slippery surfaces and strong currents.

Symptoms for those who may have ingested the toxins include stomach pain, headache, neurological symptoms like muscle weakness or dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea or liver damage. And symptoms for those who may have been exposed just by touching or swimming include skin, eye, nose, throat and lung irritation.

"Although there does not appear to be any immediate risk to dogs, dog owners may want to keep their pets away from the water," the department said. "The harmful algae could quickly return without warning, and dogs are more susceptible to some toxins, and several have died when exposed. Symptoms in dogs may include excessive salivation, vomiting, fatigue, staggered walking, difficulty breathing, convulsions and liver failure. Seek veterinary care immediately if your pets seem sick after going in or near water."

If you believe you have been exposed, seek medical treatment and/or call the Texas Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.  Please also call Austin 311 to report possible illness in both people and pets.

For more information on the City of Austin's algae response, click here.

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