Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Excessive algae growth in Lake Erie turns water toxic and causes water ban in Toledo

This weekend Toledo, Ohio, residents could not use the city's water supply because tests revealed dangerous toxins likely resulting from excessive algae growth in Lake Erie. Because they were advised not to drink the water, brush their teeth with it or prepare food with it, they had to rely on bottled water or drive miles away to friends' houses to fill containers, Emma G. Fitzsimmons reports for The New York Times.

On Sunday, tests showed that the water is still contaminated. People in northwestern Ohio and southwestern Michigan are still scrambling to find clean water. "Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency," the Associated Press reports. Hospitals had to cancel some surgeries and send surgical equipment elsewhere to be sterilized, said Bryan Biggie, disaster coordinator for ProMedica hospitals in Toledo.

The Ohio National Guard delivered 33,000 gallons of clean water to the residents, and volunteers distributed bottled water at local high schools. No one was sure when the water ban would end. "I want to make sure that I would be comfortable with my family—my daughters and my wife—drinking the water," Governor John R. Kasich said, Fitzsimmons writes.  "When I'm comfortable with that, then I think we're in a position where we can say to the people here in Toledo that we feel good at it, and we can move forward."

Residents waited in line to receive drinking water in Toledo on Sunday. (NYT photo)

Along Lake Erie, the water is green-tinted like pea soup. After a testing at city water treatment plant discovered unsafe levels of microcystin, "a toxin that can cause diarrhea, vomiting or abnormal liver function," the city issues an urgent water notice on Saturday Morning, Fitzsimmons writes.

Officials said the water probably became toxic as a result of a harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie. The lake provides water for 11 million people, and environmental groups have showed concern about potential algae blooms before. Carroll Township, which is east of Toledo, issued a water ban last year resulting from algae blooms in the water supply. "Over the past decade, the algae blooms have steadily increased," Fitzsimmons writes.

Researchers believe the algae has grown because of manure and chemical fertilizer that has washed into the lake from farms as well as leaky septic tank and stormwater drains that flush large amounts of phosphorus into the lake. "Agriculture industry groups have been asking farmers for more than a year to reduce phosphorus runoff before government regulators step in and impose their own restrictions," the AP reports. (Read more)

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