Toxin leaves 500,000 in northwest Ohio without drinking water

TOLEDO Ohio Sat Aug 2, 2014 7:35pm EDT

Jascha Chiaverini secures a 500-gallon tank of water from a Napolean, Ohio grain elevator onto a trailer to donate to one of the city's distribution centers, where Toledoans can fill their water jugs at no charge in Toledo, Ohio August 2, 2014.  REUTERS/George Tanber

Jascha Chiaverini secures a 500-gallon tank of water from a Napolean, Ohio grain elevator onto a trailer to donate to one of the city's distribution centers, where Toledoans can fill their water jugs at no charge in Toledo, Ohio August 2, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/George Tanber

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TOLEDO Ohio (Reuters) - Dangerously high levels of toxins from algae on Lake Erie left 500,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, without safe drinking water on Saturday and sent many driving to other states in search of bottled water.

The crisis affects the state's fourth-largest city and surrounding counties, forcing most restaurants and the Toledo Zoo to close.

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.

City officials said in a statement that Lake Erie, the source of local drinking water, may have been impacted by a "harmful algal bloom."

In response to the Toledo crisis, Chicago is doing additional testing on Lake Michigan water as a precaution, and expects results in a day or two, city spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said.

Blue-green algae are naturally found in Ohio's lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams. Algal blooms in Lake Erie are fairly common in recent years, typically in the summer, state emergency operations spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said.

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.

Officials could not say when Toledo's water service can be declared safe, and boiling the water will not destroy the toxic microcystins.

Drinking the contaminated water could affect the liver and cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness, city officials said.

The water should not be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth or preparing food, the governor's office said. It also should not be given to pets, but hand washing is safe and adults can shower in it, officials said.

As soon as the crisis became public early Saturday, all local stores sold out of their water supplies. That sent residents traveling in all directions to find supplies.

Jeff Hauter of Toledo drove to a Walmart in suburban Detroit, where he bought 18 gallons and four cases of water. He said he ran into others from the Toledo area loading up their trucks and cars.

A retired Toledo water department employee, Hauter said the crisis did not shock him.

"It's a lack of preventative maintenance over many city administrations," he said. "It was inevitable."

(Reporting by George Tanber in Toledo, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (6)
blogoleum wrote:
Retreating glaciers left NW Ohio with some of the most fertile soil on the planet.

For decades the farmers have been using chemistry to further improve yields in one of the most competitive industries known to man: food. This has resulted in “farm runoff” into the large number of rivers and streams that feed the Maumee River and Lake Erie.

Below is a Google Maps link that will give you an idea of just how many natural waterways are here.

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=41.473345,-83.209763&ll=41.480547,-83.136292&spn=0.19085,0.308647&num=1&t=m&z=12

Zoom out and realize that these waterways wind all over Central and NW Ohio, in some cases all the way to Michigan and Indiana.

Now realize that a large number of the country roads surrounding and traversing these farms feed directly into the natural waterways. Many a Spring morning you’ll find farmers cleaning these ditches of their own sewage. You don’t think actual plumbing stretches all the way to town do you?

Much of the infrastructure was designed before the emergence of better farming through chemistry.

I am NOT a biologist or scientist, but …

Are algae blooms so strong because fertilizers help algae grow? Can science alter the chemistry to alleviate the problem?

Food is the most important product on Earth next to Air and Water. If the Water is bad, well, you get the idea.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuyahoga_River

Aug 02, 2014 4:06pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
NJyote wrote:
Toledo is not northeast Ohio, it lies in the western part of Ohio.

Aug 02, 2014 5:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Loucleve wrote:
Toledo is in Northwest Ohio, geniuses.

Maybe try checking a map next time.

Aug 02, 2014 6:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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