‘Paralytic’ Toxins Reported in Local Shellfish

The naturally occurring toxins are currently the highest they've been in 20 years — and global warming is most likely to blame.

(Courtesy Photo)

Sorry, shellfish lovers, but authorities issued a warning this week that local mussels, clams, and oysters may currently contain lethal levels of paralytic shellfish poison, otherwise known as PSP. 

The news broke Tuesday when the California Department of Health got results from a mussel sample gathered near the Chimney Rock sentinel station in Point Reyes — which contained a shocking 37 times the “alert” level for PSP.  The warning extends to shellfish residing in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties.

The symptoms of PSP don’t sound fun: tingling, numbness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, pain, and respiratory problems all can signify poisoning. Slurred speech and a loss of balance usually follow. In extreme cases, muscular paralysis and asphyxiation can occur. 

While the toxins naturally occur in shellfish, they are often higher when water temperature and salt content vary, which often happens — you guessed it — as a result of global warming. This round of PSP levels are the highest in 20 years, but no illnesses have been recorded yet.

“Because these are potentially lethal levels, we want to make sure no one is out there collecting shellfish until it’s safe again,” Marin County Public Health Officer Willis said in a statement. “Please warn anybody who is out with boots and shovels looking for shellfish at low tide.”

Luckily, commercially-sold shellfish should be clear from these toxins, and so the warning only applies to shellfish gathering fishermen who frequent the counties mentioned above. Still, it may be worth double-checking with your local happy hour purveyor just where their $1 oysters originated.

Bay City News contributed reporting to this story.

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