Sunday 18 August 2019

Holidaymakers warned about toxic algae as two men killed

Bay watch: Sea lettuce is believed to killed two men in Brittany, France
Bay watch: Sea lettuce is believed to killed two men in Brittany, France

Peter Allen

Holidaymakers heading for the beaches of northern France this summer have been warned about a green tide of potentially toxic sea lettuce that may have been responsible for the deaths of two men.

In the growing public health scandal, an 18-year-old oyster farmer died in Morlaix Bay last Saturday, and a 70-year-old retiree in Douarnenez Bay on Tuesday.

The Brittany beauty spots where the unidentified men apparently succumbed to heart attacks "in minutes" are hugely popular with tourists, including thousands who arrive from Ireland at this time of year.

Jean-Philippe Récappé, the Brest prosecutor, confirmed fears had been raised about possible hydrogen sulphide poisoning caused by decomposing sea lettuce, or Ulva lactuca.

Six beaches in the area are currently closed because of the decaying green algae that produces a smell of rotten eggs.

The colourless gas can attack nervous and respiratory systems, paralysing breathing and then causing death.

Commenting on the death of the apparently healthy teenager at Morlaix, Mr Récappé said: "The cause of death has not yet been determined since the results of toxicological and pathological analysis is not yet known."

Fears about sea lettuce were first raised as early as the 1970s, after wild animals including boars appeared to succumb to the fumes, along with horses and pet dogs.

Accusations about a public health scandal intensified in 1989 when an emergency doctor in Lannion, Brittany, questioned the cause of death of a jogger.

His body was found tangled up in a mass of seaweed on the beach at Saint-Michel-en-Grève, with the doctor complaining that post mortem results were never made public.

The problem is thought to be worsening because of compounds full of nitrogen caused by industrial farming.

They build up in excrement from pig and poultry farms, and then wash out to sea where algae builds up before ending up back on beaches as a green tide.

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