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Shellfish biotoxin closure in Pierce County

Washington State Department of Health closed beaches in Pierce County to the harvest of all species of shellfish because of biotoxins. The closure includes the shoreline from Days Island and Point Fosdick north to the King and Kitsap County lines, including Commencement Bay, Colvos Passage and the Narrows.

High levels of a biotoxin known as paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) caused the closure, which applies to recreational mussel, clam, and oyster harvesting within these areas. Shellfish you buy in stores and restaurants are still safe to eat.

What is paralytic shellfish poison (PSP)?

Some species of microscopic algae produce PSP. This biotoxin affects the nervous system and paralyzes muscles. High levels of PSP can cause severe illness and death, which can occur in less than 30 minutes in some cases.

What are the symptoms?

Tingling of the lips and tongue, which may begin minutes or up to two hours after eating toxic shellfish, are early symptoms. Later symptoms may include:

  • Tingling in fingers and toes.
  • Loss of control of arms and legs.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Nausea.
  • Sense of floating.

If someone consumes enough toxin, muscles of the chest and abdomen become paralyzed—including muscles used for breathing—and the person can suffocate.

What should I do if I think I have PSP?

If symptoms are mild, call your health care provider and the Health Department. If symptoms are severe, call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room immediately.

How can I protect myself from PSP?

The Washington Department of Health regularly tests shellfish for PSP and closes areas that have unsafe levels. Before harvesting any kind of shellfish, check DOH’s shellfish safety map or call the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at (800) 562-5632. You will find which recreational areas are closed because of biotoxins. Public beaches that allow harvesting sometimes have closure signs, but don’t assume a beach is safe if you don’t see signs.

For more information, please contact ehsurfacewater-shellfish@tpchd.org.

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