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Officials warn of potentially lethal levels of biotoxin in Bellingham Bay mussels

If you love shellfish, make sure you’re eating it safely

Health officials urge people to check a biotoxin hotline before harvesting molluscan shellfish like clams, mussels and oysters anywhere in Washington state. A naturally occurring marine biotoxin can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.
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Health officials urge people to check a biotoxin hotline before harvesting molluscan shellfish like clams, mussels and oysters anywhere in Washington state. A naturally occurring marine biotoxin can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.

The Whatcom County Health Department is warning residents that a common biotoxin is now at potentially lethal levels in mussels harvested in Bellingham Bay.

State officials have also expanded the shellfish closure list this week to include all beaches from Birch Point south to the Skagit County line, including Larrabee State Park.

It is not uncommon for the Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning biotoxin to reach elevated levels in this area, but testing showed higher levels than normally seen in Bellingham Bay, said Mark Raaka, a public health preparedness specialist for Whatcom County.

Health officials wanted to get the word out not just to harvesters, but for people who frequent the beaches with pets and young children. Consuming the mussels found on the beach could cause a lethal intoxication, Raaka said.

This warning is only for the shellfish found in the affected areas. Shellfish sold in restaurants and retail markets have been tested and are safe to eat, according to the health department’s news release.

According to the news release, mussels pick up biotoxins more quickly than other shellfish. Elevated levels are also being seen in other shellfish in the area, including clams, oysters and scallops.

The county health department will be collecting additional samples in the coming weeks to monitor biotoxin levels.

Biotoxin levels can quickly change, so people are encouraged to check the Washington Department of Health’s website for updates.

The FDA has a few tips for buying seafood and making sure it's safe to eat. Fish and shellfish can be dangerous and lead to deadly illness if they're not prepared properly.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz
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