PSP Toxins Monitoring update

Friday 16th February 2018

  • Further testing confirms earlier findings
  • Low level of risk to beach users and their pets, although simple precautions are recommended
  • Water remains safe for people and pets

In the wake of the deaths of two dogs thought to be due to toxins in dead fish found on beaches, further testing has been carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

The crabs, whelks and shrimps that have been tested have shown either very low levels of PSP (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) toxins (well below the regulatory limit) or no toxins at all. However, further tests on starfish samples have found extremely high levels of toxins.

PSP toxins are typically associated with bivalve molluscs such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops. These are filter feeders and can accumulate PSP toxins, which are produced naturally by certain species of microscopic algae. Algal blooms do not usually occur during winter months in the UK and the routine testing of bivalve molluscs has been negative for PSP.  As such the source of the contamination is still unknown and is being investigated.

It is thought that the contaminated animals were washed up on beaches during winter storms and are likely to have now been washed back into the sea.

Whilst it is thought unlikely that starfish with high levels of PSP toxins pose a health risk to humans through handling them, as a precaution people should refrain from handling any starfish they might find on the beach.

Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Eastern IFCA) is co-ordinating the activity of relevant agencies in seeking to establish the source and extent of the PSP contamination. The agencies involved include Cefas, the Food Standards Agency, local authority Environmental Health departments, the Marine Management Organisation and the Environment Agency.

The CEO of Eastern IFCA, Julian Gregory, said, ‘Any risk is only because of ingestion so our advice to the public remains the same. There is a low level of risk to beach users and their pets but as a precaution it is suggested that dogs are kept under close control, on leads or muzzled and people should avoid handling starfish. There is no risk to people or pets from seawater.’

Analysis of the Dab associated with the incident at Cley indicates that it was contaminated with PSP, albeit at a level below the regulatory maximum allowed. Recreational sea anglers, who often fish for this species at this time of year, may wish to return their catch to the sea and avoid retaining it for consumption as a precautionary measure.

Owners of pets that have become ill after consuming items on a beach are asked to report the matter to the District or Borough Council for the area where the incident occurred.



Note to Editors

PSP (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) toxins are primarily associated with bivalve molluscs such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops. These are filter feeders and can accumulate the potent neurotoxins, all related to the parent compound saxitoxin, which are produced naturally by certain species of microscopic algae. Dinoflagellates of the genus Alexandrium are the most widespread saxitoxin producers. Algae blooms do not usually occur during winter months in the UK.

The routine monitoring for the presence of toxin producing plankton in shellfish production and relaying areas, and biotoxins in bivalve molluscs, is a requirement of Regulation (EC) No 854/2004, which sets out official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the body with overall responsibility for the official monitoring programme for marine biotoxins in live bivalve molluscs.  The monitoring programme involves testing bivalve molluscs such as Oysters, Mussels, Cockles etc and water from classified production areas.  Where permitted levels are exceeded, the harvesting area is closed until they are within permitted levels again.

Cefas is the contracted laboratory responsible for the analysis of both water and flesh samples. Local Authorities (District Councils within the Eastern IFCA District) are responsible for collecting water and shellfish samples at the required frequency from the designated sites and for sending these to the testing laboratory.

Water samples are analysed for the presence of potentially harmful algal (phytoplankton) species associated with marine biotoxins which include Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) toxins, lipophilic toxins (including Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisons (DSP) and PSP toxins. Bivalve mollusc samples are analysed for these toxins using a range of chemical detection methods.

Laboratory testing for PSP in starfish, fish and shore crabs is not validated and accredited in the Cefas Laboratory (Weymouth). However, two independent tests were conducted and the majority of results indicate a high likelihood that results for these marine animals are accurate.

PSP toxins would not ordinarily be expected in species other than filter feeders unless they predate on filter feeders. In such cases toxins can bioaccumulate and in the case of Cancer pagurus (commonly known as edible/brown crab) and lobster, toxins generally accumulate in the hepatopancreas. Such cases are relatively rare, although there are reported incidents around the world.

The CEO of Eastern IFCA, Julian Gregory, is the lead officer responsible for coordinating the activity of agencies involved in dealing with this event.

Any media enquiries should be directed to Adam Aiken, Media and Campaigns Officer at North Norfolk District Council


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