Posted by David Brumbaugh on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 @ 2:00 PM
The harrowing events of the weekend appear to be over for Toledo, as the mayor announced that water was again safe for consumption. A “Do Not Use” warning was issued following the detection of microcystin in the finished product of a water treatment plant (WTP). The toxin, almost certainly produced by the harmful algal bloom (HAB) that develops at the mouth of the Maumee River almost every year, can cause serious health effects and cannot be killed even by boiling affected water. For three days, the city’s residents were required to stock up on bottled water and seek relief from outside suppliers.
First, Beagle would like to acknowledge the attentiveness of the Toledo WTP staff and administrators. They should be commended for their vigilant monitoring and their courage to immediately publicize the problem when it was detected. They are charged with the difficult job of supplying clean, potable water to nearly a half million people from a source that is anything but pristine. In fact, the Toledo water department (and pretty much every water department anywhere in the U.S.) do such a good job of providing safe water that the general public typically takes their stellar work for granted.
However, this incident comes with some strong lessons, and we would do well to learn from them. In the past, the blooms that have persisted in Lake Erie have been primarily a nuisance to the general public, something that was aesthetically displeasing, but never so problematic as to disrupt everyday life. But this is not the first time a WTP drawing from Lake Erie has issued warnings about its water. In 2013, a WTP in Carroll Township, just east of Toledo, shut down for a day following the detection of microcystin in its finished water. It happened before, and it was surprising. Now it’s happened again, and it’s shameful. If we continue to ignore the growing algae problem in Lake Erie, these cyanotoxins will find their way into public water systems again.
Hopefully, people will begin to see HABs for what they really are: ecological crises threatening public health, business, and recreation that are inextricably linked to our society’s (mis)use of the environment. These are not problems that can be solved overnight, so it is important that the situation be addressed now. I encourage you to contact your local Congressperson and tell them that they need to support HABHRCA, a recently passed bill meant to support research for remediation of freshwater HABs, whose funding is still up for debate. This is the easiest action to show that you take the rehabilitation of our water resources seriously.
We are all concerned about the water quality problems in Toledo and the implications it has for our local water source. If you manage a public water supply (PWS) or recreational lake and have concerns about HABs affecting your water, Beagle Bioproducts is available to assist you. Our lab is able to detect the presence of cyanotoxins like the ones found in Toledo, and can identify the algal species that are capable of producing these toxins. Please call us to discuss what steps you can take to monitor your water.