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Mother Nature did not pee in the Toledo water supply

Over 500,000 people in and around Toledo, OH has had their water contaminated. The Toledo Blade published an article on Aug. 3, 2014 titled Algae at Toledo water intake. The mayor of Toledo, Michael D. Collins, issued the advisory statement to the public to not consume the water in Toledo’s municipal water supply until further notice.

Toledo shares a water problem with a Chinese city
Photo by China Photos/Getty Images

The Toledo municipal water is drawn from a “crib” that pumps water from Lake Erie. The current appearance of this water is fluorescent green. The water is treated at the Collins Park Water Treatment plant. The plant’s website discusses the 24x7 quality testing done for the treated water.

Phosphorus is the main cause of algae “blooms”. One source of phosphorus is the discharge of raw sewage into the water supplies. These discharges typically happen due to flooding of the sewage treatment plants. Toledo has had to expand its holding basins to prevent dumping raw sewage into the Maumee River.

The expected cost of the Toledo Waterways Initiative is over $500 million dollars. The first and second stages of the changes in the sewage treatment system have resulted in eliminating raw sewage discharges from the main plant since 2007.

The major source of the algae problems for the Toledo water supply has been identified as runoff of agricultural fertilizers going into the Maumee River and its tributaries that feed into Lake Erie. The phosphorus that is in the fertilizer provides nutrients to the algae. The algae create microcystins that are a health hazard to humans or animals drinking the water.

While Toledo is currently the only city in Ohio to have it water supply declared as an emergency situation, there are high levels of microcystins in many Ohio lakes. Grand Lake St. Marys near Celina, OH reported 74.6 parts per billion (ppb) of microcystins on July 27, 2014. Buckeye Lake reported 21 ppb for a sample taken July 28, 2014.

You can get the current testing results for lakes in Ohio from data provided by the Ohio EPA. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur represents the Toledo area. She has complained that she has been unable to get actual test results for Toledo’s municipal water supply. Plant workers at the water treatment plants have complained that test methods to determine the microcystins levels are inconsistent between the federal EPA and Ohio EPA methods.

In a bit of cosmic irony, algae are sometimes used to test the concentration of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, found in water supplies. The higher the concentration of Roundup, the lower the amount of algae that survives. Apparently the effect of the phosphorus is greater than the effect of the Roundup that is being fed into Lake Erie.

According to the US government, Roundup poses no health risk to humans. There is an extensive list of human health issues that the National Institute of Health (NIH) has listed as not being negatively influenced by glyphosate. It is highly unlikely that Monsanto will try to market Roundup as an algaecide, but it is possible. In the meantime, Toledo is continuing to monitor the water supply for microcystins so that it can declare the water emergency as being over.

The full text of the Toledo Blade article Algae at Toledo water intake is available to provide more details of the current water situation there. Mayor Collins lifted the water ban on Aug. 4, 2014 about 9 a.m. according to an article by John Seewer of the Associated Press titled Toledo mayor lifts water ban in northwest Ohio.

The continued high volume of chemical fertilizers being applied to fields reflects the way crops are produced. Changes in crop management and control of runoff of chemical fertilizers and herbicides are needed to provide better water quality and prevent future drinking water emergencies.

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