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Health - Public Health News

Posted on: January 10, 2023

Southern Whatcom County Beaches Shellfish Closure Upgraded: Closed for Butter and Varnish Clams Only

Biotoxin levels have dropped in molluscan shellfish in southern Whatcom County.  In response, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has upgraded the closure to Butter and Varnish clams Only on recreational harvest from Sandy Point south including Bellingham Bay, Portage and Chuckanut Bays, and the area around Lummi Island.  Northern Whatcom County, north of Sandy Point to the Canadian border, including Point Roberts, remains open to all species harvest. 

The Whatcom County Health Department will continue to monitor biotoxins in molluscan shellfish.  We will notify the public when there is a change in biotoxin levels that may affect public health. Keep in mind that biotoxin levels can change rapidly. Shellfish harvesters are advised to “Know Before You Dig”. Always check for current biotoxin and pollution closures at the DOH website: https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/biotoxin/biotoxin.html or call the DOH Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington State.

Algae that contain marine biotoxins cannot be seen and must be detected by laboratory testing. During a biotoxin event, mussels and varnish clams usually contain the highest toxin concentration. PSP and other naturally occurring biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing. Crab meat is not affected, but “crab butter” and crab entrails can harbor biotoxins so they should always be discarded. Molluscan shellfish include clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. 

PSP biotoxin can cause severe illness and death.  Symptoms include numbness and tingling of lips and tongue, which may begin within minutes of eating toxic shellfish or may take an hour or two to develop. Symptoms may progress to tingling of fingers and toes and then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty in breathing. Some people feel nauseous or experience a sense of floating. If a person consumes enough toxin, the chest and abdomen muscles become paralyzed, including muscles used for breathing, and the victim can suffocate. Death from Paralytic Shellfish Poison has occurred in less than 30 minutes.

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