Algal bloom leaves 500,000 without drinking water in northeast Ohio

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 02, 2014 2:50 PM

TOLEDO Ohio (Reuters) - Officials in Toledo, Ohio, warned residents of the city and surrounding areas on Saturday not to drink their tap water or try to boil it for purification after samples found dangerously high levels of toxins from an algal bloom.

Toledo's water system, which provides service outside the city to areas in Lucas, Wood and Fulton counties, serves a total of about 500,000 residents, said state emergency operations spokesman Chris Abbruzzese.

Ohio Governor John Kasich declared a state of emergency for the region, freeing up resources for the Ohio National Guard and state workers to truck safe water to people who need it. Those shipments will continue throughout the day, Abbruzzese said.

"Lake Erie, which is a source of drinking water for the Toledo water system, may have been impacted by a harmful algal bloom," said a statement from the city, which is the fourth-largest in Ohio.

Blue-green algae are naturally found in Ohio's lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams.

Potentially dangerous algal blooms, which are rapid increases in algae levels, are caused by high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous. Those nutrients can come from runoff of excessively fertilized fields and lawns or from malfunctioning septic systems or livestock pens, city officials said.

They could not immediately say when they expect Toledo's water service to be declared safe.

City officials warned that boiling the tap water will not destroy the toxic microcystins, which have shown up in two sample readings in excess of the standard of 1 microgram per liter, according to the statement.

Drinking the contaminated water could affect the liver and cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness, officials said. They told people to seek medical help if they feel they have been exposed to the toxins.

The water should not be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth or preparing food, the governor's office said in a statement.

It also should not be given to pets, but hand washing is safe and adults can shower in it, officials said.

"Algal blooms in Lake Erie, they're fairly common in recent years,” Abbruzzese said, adding that the phenomenon more commonly occur during the summer months.

Last year, an advisory not to drink water was issued due to microcystins for Carroll Township in Ohio, he said.

(Reporting by George Tanber in Toledo and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Dan Grebler)