Toxic algae in Ohio leaves thousands without water

4 August 2014

Sales of bottled water have soared in Toledo (Ohio) USA as algal toxins persist in the drinking water supply.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency for Lucas, Wood and Fulton counties and deployed the National Guard to make water available to the area.

Water from this area comes from the massive Lake Erie, long infamous for algal blooms and toxins.  A couple of years ago Droplets reported on an article entitled Lake Erie on Death Watch!  Lake Erie, once a lake management success story, has regressed in recent years, with an increasing incidence of toxic algal blooms threatening millions of water users.

Worried residents told not to drink, brush their teeth or wash dishes with the water emptied store shelves and waited hours for deliveries of bottled water from across Ohio as the governor declared a state of emergency. Toledo issued the warning just after midnight Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption. The city also said not to boil the water because that would only increase the toxin’s concentration. The mayor also warned that children should not shower or bathe in the water and that it shouldn’t be given to pets. [Article here]

Regrettably this is a scenario that will become increasingly common on a global scale.  Luckily for Toledo residents their water treatment plant appears to have regular on-line algal and toxin monitoring and was able to both detect the problem and warn users within a short period of time.  It is nowadays possible to continuously (24/7) monitor the algal types, based on their characteristic fluorescent signatures, entering a treatment works, at a very high level of resolution.  This completely obviates the need for laborious and time-wasting manual sample collection and testing.

From one perspective, the problem is directly related to increasing population numbers, i.e. more people producing more pollution that simply ends up in our surface waters.  Take the South African situation, for example:  As South Africa determinedly connects more and more households to reticulated sewage, it simply adds more load to already over-stressed sewage treatment plants, ultimately placing more inadequately treated waste effluent into the environment.  As so succinctly noted in a recent article from India:

the flush toilet arrived [in India] in cities from Europe and this became the cause of even more pollution for the simple reason that its design principle was based on pollution. It envisaged the mixing of clean water with faeces and disposing it somewhere, usually in rivers or lakesIndians need to make up for lost time and build toilets that do not send human wastes to water [Article here].

For most people, though, any thought of what happens to their waste ends the moment they press the flush lever!


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