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Toxic Lake Erie Algae Shuts Toledo Water Supply Down



Above: The City of Toledo water intake crib is surrounded by algae, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
 
 UPDATE: A water ban that had hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio and Michigan scrambling for drinking water has been lifted, Toledo's mayor announced Monday.Mayor D. Michael Collins called the drinking water safe and lifted the ban at a Monday morning news conference."Our water is safe," Collins said. "Families can return to normal life."
 
AP Photo
A sample glass of Lake Erie water is photographed near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
AP PhotoOhio Air National Guard Senior Airman Nick Wander fills a 400 gallon military water buffalo with fresh drinking water, Sunday, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio.  (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
AP PhotoLuna Pier, Mich, fire department Lt. Warren Rains, left, puts the hose back while Brenda Badger of Erie, Michigan closes the container that was just filled with water at the Luna Pier fire station, Aug. 3, 2014. Four communities in Monroe County, Michigan were told to not use their water due to toxins in the Toledo water distribution system. (AP Photo/Detroit News, Robin Buckson )
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Toledo police officers direct traffic near a water distribution point at Waite High School, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Toledo. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
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Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie  (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
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Monroe County, Michigan, Administrator and CFO Michael Bosanac, left, and Luna Pier, Mich., Mayor Dave Davison oversee a pallet of water, donated by a supermarket (AP Photo/Detroit News, Robin Buckson
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A detail photograph of the Lake Erie water near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio.  (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
 
 
The earlier an entered its third day in northwest Ohio Monday after tests showed some toxins still contaminating Lake Erie, leaving residents to continue scrambling for water for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said early Monday that most of the tests done by state and federal authorities on Sunday showed a positive trend, but that additional testing is necessary.

He told WTOL-TV that he was concerned by some of the results and didn't want to take any chances.

The city council was to review the test results at its regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday.

Ohio's fourth-largest city warned residents not to use city water early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, most likely from algae on the lake.

Many communities along the Lake Erie basin, including greater Buffalo, get their drinking water from the lake. Officials at the Erie County Water Authority have increased their testing, and say that the massive algae blooms pose no risk here; no similar toxins have been reported in any of their samples. HERE MORE BELOW


Are We At Risk at This End of Lake Erie?

" It would be very very unlikely because the conditions on the western end of the lake are such that the water levels are low, the flow is low, and on our end it is much deeper, the currents are much faster, and it just doesn't have the chance to propagate on our end. "
  
     - Paul Whittam, Director of Water Quality,  Erie County Water Authority

The advisory affected more than 400,000 residents in northwestern Ohio and southwestern Michigan. Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency.

Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur criticized officials there for not releasing the test results to the public over the weekend.

She tweeted on Sunday that the state and federal branches of the Environmental Protection Agency "should make public what it knows about Toledo water. The public has a right to know. Transparency is essential."


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Worried residents told not to drink, brush their teeth or wash dishes with the water descended on truckloads of bottled water delivered from across the state. The Ohio National Guard was using water purification systems to produce drinkable water.

Water distribution centers are scheduled reopen at 8 a.m. Monday.

Oliver Arnold, of Toledo, loaded up on bottled water Sunday so that he could give baths to his six children, including 4-month-old twins. "We're going through a lot. I know by tomorrow, we're going to be looking for water again," he said.

Some hospitals canceled elective surgeries and were sending surgical equipment that needed sterilized to facilities outside the water emergency, said Bryan Biggie, disaster coordinator for ProMedica hospitals in Toledo.

In southeastern Michigan, authorities were operating water stations Sunday for the 30,000 customers affected by the toxic contamination.

Drinking the water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes. But no serious illnesses had been reported by late Sunday. Health officials advised children and those with weak immune systems to avoid showering or bathing in the water.

Amid the emergency, discussion began to center around how to stop the pollutants fouling the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people.

"People are finally waking up to the fact that this is not acceptable," Collins said.

The toxins that contaminated the region's drinking water supply didn't just suddenly appear.

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Paul Whittam, Erie Co. Water Authority

Water plant operators along western Lake Erie have long been worried about this very scenario as a growing number of algae blooms have turned the water into a pea soup color in recent summers, leaving behind toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

In fact, the problems on the shallowest of the five Great Lakes brought on by farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a satellite image showing a small but concentrated algae bloom centered right where Toledo draws its water supply, said Jeff Reutter, head of the Ohio Sea Grant research lab.

The bloom was much smaller than in past years and isn't expected to peak until early September. But instead of being pushed out to the middle of the lake, winds and waves drove the algae toward the shore, he said.

"Weather conditions made it such that bloom was going right into the water intakes," said Reutter, who has been studying the lake since the 1970s, when it was severely polluted.

The amount of phosphorus going into the lake has risen every year since the mid-1990s. "We're right back to where we were in the `70s," Reutter said.

Almost a year ago, one township just east of Toledo told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps. That was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.

Researchers largely blame the algae's resurgence on manure and chemical fertilizer from farms that wash into the lake along with sewage treatment plants. Leaky septic tanks and stormwater drains have contributed, too. Combined, they flush huge amounts of phosphorus into the lake.

AP Photo
Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, gestures as he talks about algae near the City of Toledo water intake crib,(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Environmental groups and water researchers have been calling on Ohio and other states in the Great Lakes region to drastically reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lake. Ohio lawmakers this past spring took a step toward tackling the algae problem when they enacted a law requiring most farmers to undergo training before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields. But they have stopped short of mandating restrictions on farmers.

The International Joint Commission, an advisory agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials, said last year urgent steps are needed to reduce phosphorus applied to fields, suggesting among other things that states ban the spread of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground.

That report came after a state task force in Ohio called for a 40 percent reduction in all forms of phosphorus going 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.

"We're clearly showing progress," Reutter said. "You have to decide for yourself whether you think it's fast enough."

In Michigan, Detroit's 4 million-user water system gets its water from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. In the face of the Toledo water crisis, Detroit officials plan to review their contamination procedures Monday, water department Deputy Director Darryl Latimer told The Detroit News. He said it was unlikely Detroit would face a problem like Toledo's.

"The system is tested every two weeks for blue-green algae," Latimer said. "We haven't seen the precursors for this type of toxin."


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