Most people don’t consider algae as being a contaminant. Being that it occurs naturally in water, when we think about the quality of the water we drink, it is not something we are normally concerned about. Over 1 million residents in Ohio were shocked to learn that the levels of toxins in their drinking water, caused by algae, was dangerous enough to make them sick, and to even cause long term health damage to their liver. The high levels of algae in drinking water in seven lakes, rivers and reservoirs, made the drinking water undrinkable to over 400,000 people in the Toledo area. That led to a “do not drink” ban for Toledo residents.
Even worse, the levels were so toxic that beaches were closed and people were advised not to swim. Presenting a Public Health crisis, the clean up costs millions of dollars to overhaul all the toxins and make water safe again. The ban on drinking water, swimming and tourist activities have not only hurt the residents, it has effected the commerce of restaurants, businesses and waterway activities such as boating charters. There have been mild warnings since the 1980s that the algae was a growing threat that soon would become more than an inconvenience, but until the ban, the threats fell upon deaf ears.
Why is the drinking water deemed so toxic? The reasons are that the concentration of toxins not only in the waterways, but the drinking water supplied to residents, far exceeds the minimum standards for safety. Ohio’s EPA is now turning to the State for funding for an initiative of a State wide clean up of the bodies of water that are crucial to the State’s health and commerce. Many of the Lakes, Rivers and Reservoirs have been flagged as “impaired” which requires, according to the Federal Clean Water Act, that a plan be in place for how to clean up and deal with the toxic threat that they pose.
What is causing all the algae deposits around Ohio States water systems? Pollutants that cause algae come from toxins such as phosphorous, a main by product of manure, fertilizers and wastewater. Due to poor planning and controls, slow and steady leaks into the water systems have led to the toxic situation that Ohio is now experiencing on a grand scale. There are many different ways to tackle the program through government funded programs, private incentive initiatives and both regulated, and non-regulated state, local and federal programs.
The problem with the pollution being experienced in Ohio is that the toxins are so widespread and all encompassing that they encroach upon other States where Lake Erie touches and, therefore, becomes a national issue. Finding the best way to tackle the problem involves not only financial issues, but political, territorial and implementation ones as well. The threats that have been ignored over the past several decades have come to fruition, and being unaddressed for so long, have made tackling the dilemma that much more involved and complicated.