Dragon boat race on schedule despite Vancouver Lake health warning

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Paddle for Life Dragon Boat Races will continue as scheduled Saturday, despite Vancouver Lake testing for elevated cyanotoxin levels and Clark County Public Health strongly recommending the race shouldn’t be held at Vancouver Lake Saturday. The race benefits Clark County Veterans Assistance Center.

“I think a lot of people felt like folks really were invested in doing the race and participating in the race,” said Dee Anne Finken, a volunteer with the race who is handling communications. “The other reality is there have been times when a lot of us paddled in the lake and there have been less than ideal counts in the water.”

Cyanotoxins can be harmful to people, especially young children, and deadly for small pets to drink, according to Public Health.

Clark County Public Health upgraded Vancouver Lake to warning status after testing discovered elevated cyanotoxins levels at the lake, nearly six times higher than the Washington State Department of Health threshold for cyanotoxins. Public Health advises people to avoid direct contact with all water at Vancouver Lake.

Public Health recommended the event not be held at Vancouver Lake Saturday, but Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said Public Health will not force cancellation of the event.

“I’ve got some really serious concerns about this,” Melnick said. “My recommendations are that if they can’t have a race without skin exposure period that they shouldn’t do it.”

Public Health Public Information Officer Marissa Armstrong said Public Health made their recommendation because the race requires close proximity to water, and would expose paddlers to splashing.

Finken said the Paddle for Life board of directors deliberated about the issue for nearly three hours Friday to decide whether the event should be canceled. She said it wasn’t an easy decision to make, but 38 boats are scheduled to race, and “it’s kind of tricky” to balance the health warning with how many people are expecting to race, when making the decision she said.

Paddle for Life has taken mitigation measures, Finken said, to help safety. Those measures are adding makeshift rinse stations for people to rinse off if they come in contact with the water. Those are in addition to the showers at the lake. Organizers are also setting up docks so racers don’t have to wade in the water to enter boats.

Finken also said people don’t have to race if they don’t want to.

Melnick said the precautionary steps don’t change his recommendation, and he doesn’t even consider them particularly helpful. Melnick said he’s still worried about racers getting splashed in the eyes. Brian Schlottmann, an environmental public health program manager with Clark County Public Health, said testing revealed the lake had higher amounts of liver toxins, and that exposure to the water could cause skin irritation, eye irritation, nausea and vomiting.

Melnick said it could cause liver and kidney damage. He said the warning signs placed at the lake are there to inform people and help them make the appropriate health decisions.

“If they can’t completely prevent skin exposure they should cancel the race,” he said. “The bottom line is don’t get exposed in the first place.”

Future status

The Vancouver Lake Regional Park will remain open, and water in park restrooms and shelters is still safe to drink, according to a Public Health news release.

Public Health has been monitoring blooms of of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, at the lake since June 12, when the lake was placed under an advisory. Caution signs at the lake will now be replaced with warning signs.

Public Health will continue to monitor Vancouver Lake, and take weekly water samples as long as blooms are present. When conditions change, signs will be updated.

Health officials recommend: no swimming, water skiing, paddle boarding, kayaking or canoeing; no drinking lake water; no water contact for animals; cleaning fish well and discarding organs; and avoiding areas of scum when using motorized boats.

More information can be found at the Public Health public beach website. You can report algae blooms at Public Health’s website.

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