Guidance values for microcystins in water and cyanobacterial supplement products (blue-green algal supplements): a reasonable or misguided approach?

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2005 Mar 15;203(3):273-89. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2004.09.005.


This article reviews current scientific knowledge on the toxicity and carcinogenicity of microcystins and compares this to the guidance values proposed for microcystins in water by the World Health Organization, and for blue-green algal food supplements by the Oregon State Department of Health. The basis of the risk assessment underlying these guidance values is viewed as being critical due to overt deficiencies in the data used for its generation: (i) use of one microcystin congener only (microcystin-LR), while the other presently known nearly 80 congeners are largely disregarded, (ii) new knowledge regarding potential neuro and renal toxicity of microcystins in humans and (iii) the inadequacies of assessing realistic microcystin exposures in humans and especially in children via blue-green algal food supplements. In reiterating the state-of-the-art toxicology database on microcystins and in the light of new data on the high degree of toxin contamination of algal food supplements, this review clearly demonstrates the need for improved kinetic data of microcystins in humans and for discussion concerning uncertainty factors, which may result in a lowering of the present guidance values and an increased routine control of water bodies and food supplements for toxin contamination. Similar to the approach taken previously by authorities for dioxin or PCB risk assessment, the use of a toxin equivalent approach to the risk assessment of microcystins is proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins / isolation & purification
  • Bacterial Toxins / poisoning
  • Bacterial Toxins / standards*
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity
  • Cyanobacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Dietary Supplements / poisoning
  • Dietary Supplements / standards*
  • Dietary Supplements / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Marine Toxins / isolation & purification
  • Marine Toxins / poisoning
  • Marine Toxins / standards*
  • Marine Toxins / toxicity
  • Microcystins
  • Peptides, Cyclic / poisoning
  • Peptides, Cyclic / standards*
  • Peptides, Cyclic / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants / poisoning
  • Water Pollutants / standards*
  • Water Pollutants / toxicity


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Marine Toxins
  • Microcystins
  • Peptides, Cyclic
  • Water Pollutants
  • cyanobacterial toxin
  • microcystin