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In 1979 an outbreak of hepatoenteritis, also known as the Palm Island mystery disease, was reported and described a hepatitis-like illness (associated in many cases with dehydration and bloody diarrhoea) in 138 children and 10 adults of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent in Palm Island, Queensland.

Symptoms of hepatoenteritis included diarrhoea, vomiting attacks, loss of balance and disorientation.[1]

The cause of the outbreak was determined to be the addition of excessive doses of copper sulfate to the water supply of Solomon Dam to target a cyanobacteria bloom of Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii. The excessive dosing was following the use of least-cost contractors to control the algae, who were unqualified in the field.[2]

The perinatal effects of cyanobacteria contamination of drinking water include prematurity, low birth weight and congenital defects detected at birth. In 1996 there were 63 deaths attributed to drinking water contamination in Caruaru, Brazil.[3]


  1. Wilson, Paul BLACK DEATH WHITE HANDS REVISITED: THE CASE OF PALM ISLAND Aust. & NZ Journal of Criminology (March 1985) 18 (49-57) page 50
  2. Prociv, Paul, 2004"Algal toxins or copper poisoning — revisiting the Palm Island “epidemic”", accessed 23 January,2007
  3. Pilotto et al (1999) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, accessed 23 January,2007

Further reading

  • Bourke ATC, Hawes RB, Nielson A, Stallman ND. An outbreak of hepatoenteritis (the Palm Island mystery disease) possibly caused by algal intoxication [abstract]. Toxicon Suppl 1983;45-48.'