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Toledo Drinking-Water Ban Puts Renewed Focus on Lake Erie Algae Blooms

Sunday, August 3, 2014 at 8:09 PM

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Satellite image of Lake Erie from July 31, 2014. (NOAA)

People in the Toledo area are finishing up a second day under a do-not-drink advisory after a toxin was found in the water. Cleveland's water is safe to drink, the water department says. ideastream's Nick Castele reports the emergency in Toledo has officials blaming Lake Erie's algae blooms.

Early this weekend, chemists at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Toledo detected unsafe levels of the toxin microcystin in the water.

It’s produced by blue-green algae that blooms across western Lake Erie each summer—and sometimes reaches as far east as Cleveland. Researchers say runoff from farmland is a major driver of the algae.

Toledo told locals not to drink the tap water—and said boiling won’t clean it. Media in Toledo reported that so many people flocked to stores to buy bottled water that some ran out, and had to ship in more. As of 8:00 p.m. Sunday night, city officials were still waiting for test results from the U.S. EPA before determining whether the water ban should continue.

Devin Bechtel manages a Toledo restaurant called Burger Bar 419—she said eateries like hers had to close because it’s hard to scrape together enough water to serve customers.

“With the limited resources of water right now, it’s not looking good,” Bechtel said in a phone interview, adding, “Absolutely we could open if we could have it.”

Drinking contaminated water could cause nausea, vomiting and could even hurt the liver. The state says it has seen an increase in emergency room visits. Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency and sent in the National Guard with trucks of clean water.

Kasich himself visited Sunday to meet with Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins. Kasich told local media he’s putting state resources toward the problem, and that FEMA is aware of what’s going on.

“Our entire administration is engaged in this, from the National Guard to the Highway Patrol to the EPA to the Department of Natural Resources,” Kasich said in remarks carried live by TV station WTOL.

The news prompted cities along the coast from Sandusky to Cleveland to reassure residents that their water was still clean. Interim Cleveland water department commissioner Alex Margevicius says the city tests its water for algae toxins regularly.

“We’ve been on guard and notice that algae conditions could get worse in Lake Erie, so as a result, we’re on higher guard right now,” Margevicius told ideastream on Sunday. “We’re watching very closely conditions in the lake.”

Toledo Mayor Collins noted that bringing clean tap water back to people still won’t stop the growth of algae floating just off Ohio’s coast. 

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Environment, Government/Politics

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