Risk of developing Motor neurone disease and possible link to contamination of the water supply, particularly in Pembrokeshire

It has been postulated that neurotoxins from blue-green algae blooms are linked to the development of Motor Neurone disease (MND) ¹ also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in the U.S. , failure to  prevent nitrates, and particularly phosphates, entering the ground water and hence the drinking water supply in Pembrokeshire may be increasing the risk of developing serious neurological conditions  in the local population. The Mayo clinic lists “Environmental toxin exposure“, as a possible cause. NHSreality understands that we have a local “cluster” and we also have one of the highest concentrations of Blue Green Algae in our reservoir. Other clusters have been noted around the world, but none where NVZ (Nitrate Vulnerable Zones) have been established around drinking water reservoirs. Is the incidence rising?

In several geographical locations dietary intake of BMAA (β-N-methylamino-L-alanine) has been associated with clusters of MND/ALS ². 

B-G Algae in N Wales

In Wales the Welsh Government is about to announce the result of it’s consultation on NVZ introduction. Environmentalists contend that without addressing the region as a whole, there will be no significant benefit, and policing would be impossible. Wales, and West Wales in particular, is heavy wet agricultural land unsuited to arable crops. This means that West Wales farmers focus on growing grass for silage for animal feed, producing more animal protein per acre than most parts of Europe. Modern chemical fertilizers can give up to 4 crops of silage a year, allowing more animals to be fed, and this means more slurry and animal waste, which has to be disposed of – usually on the land. This drains into rivers and the sea.

In Pembrokeshire animals along the Eastern Cleddau river bank have died on more than one occasion as a result of poisoning from the reservoir release. This got less attention in 2015 than the mythical Puma killing Welsh Hill Sheep. Yet it is the water supply of 120,000 people who are actually in an unofficial experiment. Fish in both reservoirs and the sea have been poisoned to the point where they are unsafe to eat.

Giant methane gas producing plants is one suggestion, but the transportation costs might make this impractical. Whatever, the potential cost on a population for MND risk, and also for the butterflies and birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates is disastrous. The precautionary principle alone says we should have a NVZ in the whole of Wales. It begins to look as if genetic predisposition, allied to toxin exposure is the cause.

“…….it is possible that biomagnification of BMAA could occur in marine ecosystems similar to the biomagnification of BMAA in terrestrial ecosystems. Production of BMAA by marine cyanobacteria may represent another route of human exposure to BMAA. Since BMAA at low concentrations causes the death of motor neurons, low levels of BMAA exposure may trigger motor neuron disease in genetically vulnerable individuals.”²

The physiological mechanism by which it may cause disease in humans is described thus “BMAA has a number of toxic effects on motor neurons including direct agonist action on NMDA and AMPA receptors, induction of oxidative stress, and depletion of glutathione. As a non-protein amino acid, there is also the strong possibility that BMAA could cause intraneuronal protein misfolding, the hallmark of neurodegeneration. While an animal model for BMAA-induced ALS is lacking, there is substantial evidence to support a link between this toxin and ALS.”³

In 2007 the UK Parliament discussed the legislation at the Environment ,Food and rural affairs committee the following is an extract from that report:

“5. There are health and environmental reasons for concern about the level of nitrates in water. Under the Drinking Water Directives of 1980 and 1998, drinking water is required to have a nitrate concentration of less than 50 mg/l.4 Defra estimates that, between 2005 and 2010, the cost of treating nitrates in drinking water will be £288 million in capital expenditure and £6 million a year in operating costs.5 In addition, nutrients such as nitrates can contribute to the eutrophication, or enrichment, of water.6 Eutrophication can lead to the accelerated growth of plant life such as algae, which in turn can have a negative impact on biodiversity and affect the recreational value of the water. At the time of the Directive’s introduction, the Council of Ministers judged it necessary “in order to protect human health and living resources and aquatic ecosystems and to safeguard other legitimate uses of water”


Failure to prevent nitrate contamination of drinking water sources by full implementation of the EU  Water directives since 1991 in Wales and in particular in Pembrokeshire  may possibly    increase risk of  MND/ALS through contamination of the water supply by blue green algae derived neurotoxins .


1: Bradley WG, Borenstein AR, Nelson LM, Codd GA, Rosen BH, Stommel EW, Cox PA. Is exposure to cyanobacteria an environmental risk factor for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases? Amyotroph Lateral Scler Frontotemporal Degener. 2013 Sep;14(5-6):325-33. doi: 10.3109/21678421.2012.750364. Review. PubMed PMID: 23286757.

2: Masseret E, Banack S, Boumédiène F, Abadie E, Brient L, Pernet F, Juntas-Morales R, Pageot N, Metcalf J, Cox P, Camu W; French Network on ALS Clusters Detection and Investigation.. Dietary BMAA exposure in an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cluster from southern France. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 13;8(12):e83406. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083406. PubMed PMID: 24349504; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3862759.

2: BMAA – an unusual cyanobacterial neurotoxin, Kaivalya J. Vyas & John H. Weiss. Pages 50-55 | Received 27 Apr 2009, Accepted 18 Aug 2009, Published online: 25 Nov 2009 . http://dx.doi.org/10.3109/17482960903268742

3: Banack SA, Caller TA, Stommel EW. The cyanobacteria derived toxin Beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Toxins (Basel). 2010 Dec;2(12):2837-50. doi: 10.3390/toxins2122837. Review. PubMed PMID: 22069578; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3153186.

Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) and their Toxins

Lindsey Konkel reports in Environmental Health News December 2014: Closing in on ALS? Link between lethal disease and algae

Kathleen McAuliffe reports in “Discover” magazine 2011: Are Toxins in Seafood Causing ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s?

Motor Neurone Disease Association

Motor neurone disease – NHS Choices

Epidemiology of ALS and Suspected Clusters

Motor Neurone Disease – Patient

Motor neurone disease: assessment and management …

The Mayo Clinic overview includes the paragraphs below (note environmental toxin exposure):


ALS is inherited in 5 to 10 percent of cases, while the rest have no known cause.

Researchers are studying several possible causes of ALS, including:

  • Gene mutation. Various genetic mutations can lead to inherited ALS, which causes nearly the same symptoms as the noninherited form.
  • Chemical imbalance. People with ALS generally have higher than normal levels of glutamate, a chemical messenger in the brain, around the nerve cells in their spinal fluid. Too much glutamate is known to be toxic to some nerve cells.
  • Disorganized immune response. Sometimes a person’s immune system begins attacking some of his or her body’s own normal cells, which may lead to the death of nerve cells.
  • Protein mishandling. Mishandled proteins within the nerve cells may lead to a gradual accumulation of abnormal forms of these proteins in the cells, destroying the nerve cells.

Risk factors

Established risk factors for ALS include:

  • Heredity. Five to 10 percent of the people with ALS inherited it (familial ALS). In most people with familial ALS, their children have a 50-50 chance of developing the disease.
  • Age. ALS risk increases with age, and is most common between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Sex. Before the age of 65, slightly more men than women develop ALS. This sex difference disappears after age 70.
  • Genetics. Some studies examining the entire human genome (genomewide association studies) found many similarities in the genetic variations of people with familial ALS and some people with noninherited ALS. These genetic variations might make people more susceptible to ALS.

Environmental factors may trigger ALS. Some that may affect ALS risk include:

  • Smoking. Smoking is the only likely environmental risk factor for ALS. The risk seems to be greatest for women, particularly after menopause.
  • Environmental toxin exposure. Some evidence suggests that exposure to lead or other substances in the workplace or at home may be linked to ALS. Much study has been done, but no single agent or chemical has been consistently associated with ALS.
  • Military service. Recent studies indicate that people who have served in the military are at higher risk of ALS. It’s unclear exactly what about military service may trigger the development of ALS. It may include exposure to certain metals or chemicals, traumatic injuries, viral infections, and intense exertion.

Algal blooms in the Waikato region and NZ Marlborough region: Cluster investigation into motor neuron disease may 05

BLUE GREEN ALGAE – New Mexico Environment Department

Toxic Blue-Green Algae Blooms – Washington State

Cornwall: Warning issued over toxic algaeBBC News

Pembrokeshire Rivers trust: Blue Green Algae at Llys Y Fran and Warning over toxic algae – Wales Online and it reaches the sea: Warning after harmful blue-green algae found at Freshwater

Australia: Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) – health.vic

England: A Case-Study Survey of an Eight-year Cluster of Motor

JAMA article 1982: A Cluster of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis says incidence is “four to six per 100,000 population. The age-adjusted incidence is 1.8 per 100,000 in white Americans.”

Lakeside ALS cluster draws attention but is still unexplained

Huge ALS cluster at Kelly AFB ignored by authorities

South East France: A Clustering of Conjugal Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in …

Als Cluster Finland – scribd.com

Clusters : National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Sunday 29th Jan 2017: Alzheimer’s ’cause’ discovered: Poisonous algae found in UK freshwater lakes and reservoirs could be fuelling dementia epidemic afflicting one million people



Image result for poison cartoonOverview of Algal Poisoning – Toxicology – Veterinary Manual

algal poisoning animals

How to avoid poisoning of livestock by blue-green algae

Clusters of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (MND)

Clusters of MND

Blue Green Algae Poisoning Frequently Asked Questions







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