Microcystin Scare Over, For Now: Toledo Mayor Lifts Water Ban

Microcystin, the toxin that was released by blue-green algae from Lake Erie into the Toledo, Ohio water supply, is now at an acceptable level.

Toledo mayor D. Michael Collins proclaimed, “Our water is safe” at 9:35 am on Monday, according to NPR. Collins said the 400,000 persons affected can now use the water to drink, cook, and bathe.

The World Health Organization has tested the water and found the microcystin level to be stabilized below their acceptable limit of 1.0 parts per billion. As of now, neither the state nor federal governments have guidelines for microcystin. Officials do ask that persons in the affected area run their water at least 15 minutes before using.

The microcystin scare seems to stem from the blue-green algae blooms growing quite profusely in Lake Erie. Microcystin comes from the algae microcystis. The microcystin released from algae blooms can cause liver damage. On the skin, microcystin produces rashes, hives and blisters, according to the Minnesota Department Of Health. When swallowed, microcystin can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, and fever. There have been no known human deaths from microcystin, though microcystin has killed pets and wildlife, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.

The Associated Press reports:

“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.”

It should be noted that not all algae blooms are toxic, and you cannot tell if a bloom is toxic by simply looking at it.

According to the Weather Channel, nutrient enrichment and climate change are causing “an apparent increase in the toxicity of some algal blooms is freshwater lakes and estuaries around the world.” Oregon State University scientists said last year in the journal Science. Rising temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations contribute to microcystin’s rise.

The International Joint Commission, an advisory agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials, said last year that 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. It’s been estimated that agricultural runoff has been contributing to algae and microcystin grown in Lake Erie for more than a decade.