TOLEDO (WWJ/AP) – Officials in Toledo say they are doing daily water testing for the dangerous toxin that led to a water crisis in the region a year ago that left some Monroe County residents without water for days.
Water samples are taken from Lake Erie near the city’s water-system intake. The city said earlier this week that it had detected the first signs of microcystin, which comes from blue-green algae and can sicken people and animals. Last year’s microcystin contamination affected 400,000 people in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan. It was so bad, the Governor of Ohio declared a state of emergency.
Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson says the city’s drinking water remains safe but she has updated the status of the water to a “Watch” category. The next stage, “Caution,” means a toxin has been detected in tap water but the level isn’t great enough to require an advisory.
A severe toxic algae outbreak on the lake’s western end — where the toxin was recently detected — was forecast after heavy rains in June washed huge amounts of algae-feeding phosphorus into the lake.
Hicks-Hudson emphasized that the microcystin toxin was detected about 3 miles out in the lake and has not been detected inside the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, which treats the water for hundreds of thousands of residents in the area.
“A very small amount of microcystin was detected in the intake crib … and that is 0.5 parts per billion and below in the raw lake water,” the mayor said. “(That) is equal to about one-half a blade of grass in a football field.”
Microcystin can cause rashes, hives, skin blisters, vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term exposure can damage the liver and kidneys. The toxin is known to have killed dogs and livestock.
Meanwhile, Michigan Agri-Business Association President Jim Byrum and Michigan League of Conservation Voters Deputy Director Jack Schmittin announced a joint appeal Tuesday for concerted action to block the algae.
Byrum said the algae blooms forecast for the lake this summer “are a serious problem with a host of causes, including extreme weather, climate change, combined sewage overflow, malfunctioning septic systems and agriculture.”
Chuck Campbell, Toledo’s commissioner of water treatment, said new monitoring devices have helped detections occur much earlier today than it could have during the crisis last August.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in May it is fine for people school-age and older to drink tap water containing up to 1.6 parts per billion of microcystin. The World Health Organization follows stricter guidelines, as does Ohio. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city of Toledo to declare the crisis last summer once the toxin level in tap water went above 1.0 ppb.
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