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Originally published August 20, 2009 at 7:25 AM | Page modified August 20, 2009 at 12:51 PM

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Toxic algae poison French beaches, kill horse

A French government-sponsored report released Thursday says decomposing algae covering some beaches in Brittany represent a serious health risk and gases that can kill within minutes were detected on a beach where a horse died last month.

Associated Press Writer

SAINT-MICHEL-EN-GREVE, France —

A French government-sponsored report released Thursday says decomposing algae covering some beaches in Brittany represent a serious health risk and gases that can kill within minutes were detected on a beach where a horse died last month.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the state would finance the cleanup of polluted beaches, easing a burden until now placed on local communities.

Fillon spoke on a Brittany beach after the government study confirmed the toxic nature of gases emanating from decomposing green algae spread over numerous beaches.

A horse died July 28 after stumbling into a hole and becoming engulfed in the algae. The rider passed out.

Hydrogen sulfide can be released from algae putrefying on sun-drenched beaches. It is fatal in high quantities.

The report by the INERIS research organization, which studies industrial and environmental risks, showed that concentrations of hydrogen sulfide on the Saint-Michel-en-Greves beach, where the horse died, ranged up to 1,000 parts per million - an amount that "can be fatal in several minutes."

The report recommended that access be forbidden in the zone investigated - the Saint-Michel-en-Greve beach on Brittany's northern Cote d'Armor - and that people cleaning the area be equipped with portable gas detectors. It recommended that other beaches where algae accumulates and decomposes be identified.

Nitrates draining into water from intensive farming are blamed for the killer algae. The algae is said to be inoffensive when in the water. Besides producing crops, Brittany, in northwest France, is the nation's top pig-farming region, which also produces nitrates.

The prime minister told Ouest-France, a daily that covers the western region, that a commission would be set up in the days ahead on managing the green algae risk in France, with proposals due in three months and first concrete results expected in spring.

Associations in Brittany have for years warned of the dangers of the green algae, which wash up by the ton on area beaches of small towns which have had to pay for their own cleanups.

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