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Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) is a serious illness caused by eating shellfish contaminated with harmful neurotoxins. These neurotoxins are produced by microscopic algae that can bloom in certain environmental conditions.
Certain species of marine organisms, such as shellfish, feed on a variety of microscopic algae they collect by filtering large quantities of seawater. During harmful algal blooms, the shellfish can accumulate the red tide algae containing neurotoxins to dangerous, and even lethal, levels if they are eaten. However, the toxin does not affect the shellfish themselves, and when the bloom diminishes, they will eventually rid themselves of the toxin and will once again be safe to eat.
Our shellfish biologist monitors for marine biotoxins produced by microscopic algae, which can cause PSP. Consumption of shellfish with PSP toxins can cause illness or even death.
DMF collects shellfish from 13 primary stations from March through October. We analyze samples at our labs to test the toxin levels in shellfish. If a sample contains toxin, testing increases for that site. Shellfish areas are closed if toxin level exceeds safe limits.
View PSP notices
Once an area reaches the 80ug threshold, DMF:
DMF sends an e-mail notice to select state agencies every week following the first event. The notice informs them of the ongoing status of the toxin events.
When toxin levels fall below 80µg for three consecutive samples, DMF changes the status of affected areas to "OPEN". We notify state and local personnel to ensure a rapid re-opening of shellfish growing areas.
For further information on the Division's monitoring efforts, contact the Shellfish program at our New Bedford office.