Ohio State: Farmers Must Reduce Phosphorus Discharge Feeding Toxic Algae That Blooms On Lake Erie
HAB in Lake Erie cause by phosphorus from farming running off and feeding the algae.

Ohio State: Farmers Must Reduce Phosphorus Discharge Feeding Toxic Algae That Blooms On Lake Erie

Ohio State University researchers have announced several things that can be done to reduce the toxic algae that blooms on Lake Erie. The scientists have tested multiple strategies in order to reduce phosphorus discharge, because it is what which feeds the toxic algae. This is no small problem, even though it’s not in the headlines regularly.

Inquisitr reported in 2014 when a State of Emergency was declared after the water supplies of over 500,000 residents in Ohio and parts of Michigan became undrinkable thanks to the harmful algal bloom (HAB).

“Liver-affecting microcystin is a toxin from blue-green algae and is the toxin that was detected in the Toledo area’s water supply. Lake Erie contained an excess of nitrogen an phosphorus. This occurs when runoff from fertilized fields and laws, malfunctioning septic systems and livestock pens hit the water source, according to International Business Times. Governor John Kasich has declared a State of Emergency for Fulton, Lucas and Wood Counties.

“The HABs threaten the health of animals and humans. Boiling the water will not make it safe to drink or cook with. Boiling the water may make the situation even more dangerous. Residents have been ordered to restricted uses of the water: Healthy adults can wash their hands and shower with the water, but children or adults with weak immune systems should not. Symptoms of poisoning from microcystin include diarrhea, nausea, dizziness, and abnormal liver functioning. According to the EPA, severe poisonings from the toxin can include respiratory arrest and seizures.”

Last month, the State of Michigan decided to designate its section of Lake Erie as “an impaired waterway,” because the harmful algae is damaging fish and other wildlife, according to a report in Detroit News. The area affected by the declaration is less than two percent of the Great Lake, but the designation was required under the federal Clean Water Act, because shoreline monitoring and analysis of satellite imagery made it clear that the western Lake Erie basin did not meet Michigan’s water quality standards. Heidi Grether, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, explained the reason for the designation to Detroit News, which reported that blue-green algae blooms have been a clear problem since the 1990s.

Large sections of Lake Erie can be coated in pea-green slime that produces toxins.

The Ohio State University researchers announced their results following an agreement between the U.S. and Canada to reduce phosphorus discharge into Lake Erie by 40 percent, because this discharge is the cause of the dangerous bloom.

The scientists found that farmers can do multiple things to cut down on the dangerous effects of the phosphorus discharge: They need to apply fertilizer below the soil surface. They need to plant cover crops. They need to create buffer strips.

The researchers say that cover crops and buffer strips make it less likely that the excessive fertilizer can wash into waterways. Yet, only 39 percent of farmers in the Lake Erie watershed use subsurface fertilization, only 22 percent grow cover crops, and only 35 percent plant buffer strips. The researchers say that to cut phosphorus discharge by the required 40 percent, many more farmers will need to do their part.

“A lot of farmers have already taken the risk… to help move the needle,” Jay Martin, director of Ohio State’s Field to Faucet water quality program, said. “That’s really encouraging. But we need to accelerate.”

“We think we know which levers to pull, so let’s go design some field experiments,” scientist Robyn Wilson, who was part of the Ohio State project, said. Wilson hopes that farmers will do their part to protect the state’s drinking water and wildlife without regulation and suggested ways that the farmers could be persuaded.

“Their profit margins are really small right now; they don’t have a lot of wiggle room,” Wilson told The Columbus Dispatch. “The question becomes what’s the best combination of policy tools to get that extra percentage of farmers to adopt.”

Residents in Ohio say they are willing to fight the algae using taxpayer money, an ABC affiliate reported. People surveyed said they would be willing to pay slightly higher food prices, a special income tax or a sales tax in order to fund outreach programs or incentives for farmers.

The Lake Erie algae bloom project by Ohio State University was a five-year, interdisciplinary collaboration that reportedly united biologists, ecologists, political scientists and economists, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

[Featured Image by Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP Images]

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