The deaths of a family hiking on a Northern California trail last week may be linked to a toxic algae bloom that was present near where they were found, according to reports.
The bodies of John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, and their one-year-old daughter, Miju, as well as their dog, were found last Tuesday, according to Newsweek. There were no clear indicators of what had caused their deaths however they had been hiking adjacent to the Merced River's drainage system which is where there has been "a high concentration of algae bloom," according to the Sierra National Forest, which is part of the U.S. Forest Service.
Last month, the agency cautioned visitors not to "swim, wade or allow their pets to enjoy the water" due to "Toxic Algal Mats that have formed and are present."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also refers to the toxic algae blooms as "algal mats" which, if they're bound to rocks beneath the water, can "produce extremely dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people or animals."
The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the leading theory among officials is that the toxic algae bloom may be a possible factor in the family's deaths. Further fuelling the speculation is a new sign that was installed at the trail's entrance two days after the bodies were found warning hikers that "harmful algae may be present in this water." It further cautioned against drinking the water and eating shellfish found in the area.
Authorities are awaiting results of the family's "pending" toxicology reports, which Mariposa County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Kristie Mitchell explained could "take up to six weeks, sometimes even longer."
"Unfortunately we don't have a great time frame for that yet," she added.
Until then the case remains unsolved.
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