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All Whatcom beaches closed to shellfish harvesting due to deadly toxin

The Whatcom County Health Department issued an announcement today that all Whatcom County beaches, including all of Point Roberts and all of Larrabee State Park, have been closed to the harvest of molluscan shellfish (e.g. oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops) by the Washington State Department of Health due to the presence of paralytic shellfish poisoning biotoxin (PSP).

If you harvest molluscan shellfish from local beaches, the Health Department says to be aware:

  • PSP biotoxin can be deadly – don’t risk your life! Avoid harvesting all species of molluscan shellfish during a closure.
  • Molluscan shellfish include clams, mussels, oysters and scallops.
  • 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.
  • Shellfish sold in stores and restaurants are tested before shipping and are safe to consume.

County and State health departments monitor shellfish weekly when biotoxins are present.

According to the Whatcom County Health Department, 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, muscles of the chest and abdomen 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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