It turns out the family might have been exposed to a poison deadlier than nerve gas: toxic algae, one of the deadliest toxins on the planet. Unofficially, it is called the "very fast death factor." The CIA reportedly uses it in suicide pills for agents likely to be captured by the enemy. It has caused entire towns along the Italian coast to be evacuated. And it may have been the cause of a mass die-off of an African elephant herd.
Last month, the Sierra National Forest—part of the U.S. Forest Service—announced that "a high concentration of algae bloom" had been found in the Merced River. "The Sierra National Forest (SNF) would like to inform those visitors who like to enjoy this area of the Merced River and SNF, not to swim, wade or allow their pets to enjoy the water," the agency announced.
ASU News talked to Taylor Weiss, an Arizona State University assistant professor in environmental and resource management in the Polytechnic School and a member of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation—where research is being done to harness algae technology to produce renewable energy, food, feed, and other valuable products while performing environmental services to support a more sustainable future for society—about this deadly substance.Question: My first thought was, I didn't know that algae could kill.
Answer: It is among the most deadly toxins on the entire planet. If you made a list of the top 10, VX gas-synthetic (a nerve agent) would only be one of the top 10. All the rest are held by algae. ...
The tidbit of history that people gloss over is that the CIA actually stopped issuing cyanide capsules a long time ago. But we know for a fact that U-2 pilots who flew over Russia were issued fake coins with needles in them laced with saxitoxin to kill themselves in the event of torture. So we know what they do. We know the most highly effective chemical weapons designed to mimic their activities. They accomplish the same goal. They are paralytic agents that paralyze your nerves that control your skeletal muscles. They lead to your diaphragm becoming unable to move, which means you suffocate, as almost certainly what seems to have happened to this particular family on this occasion.