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Drinking Water Threatened by Toxins from Algae in Lake Erie

Update Date: Oct 14, 2013 06:22 PM EDT

According to investigators, toxins coming from algae in western Lake Erie might threaten the safety of drinking water in nearby cities. These toxins are believed to be seeping into the water treatment plants, which have inevitably prompted cities to spend extra money to ensure that the water is safe to consume. Just last month, around 2,000 residents from one township could not use or drink the water directly from the taps due to safety concerns.

During the summer and early fall seasons, algae tend to bloom and once they develop, the algae produce toxins that could kill the fish in the same environment. Algae grow due to the presence of phosphorous that comes from farm fertilizer as well as other sources. Algae have started to develop in the western end of Lake Erie and into some of Cleveland's area.  Since Lake Erie is the source of drinking water for around 11 million people, these toxins are forcing nearby cities to spend a huge sum on water safety. The city of Toledo will spend around four million dollars addressing this issue this year, which is almost double what the city spent a few years ago. When the contaminated water is consumed, it can sicken humans.

According to some officials, this year's levels might be the highest in a long time. In Carrol Township, located west of Toledo, the tests done on drinking water revealed that the numbers increased to the point where people were instructed to stop drinking and using the water for two days while the township switched to another water supply. The water is now filtered and treated in order to remove toxins and reduce the risk of illnesses.

"I wasn't sure how dangerous it was, but we wanted to be cautious," the township's water plant superintendent, Henry Biggert said according to FOX News.

Even though these cities are used to dealing with algae and the toxins they produce, monitoring water supply is still difficult because there are no standards set in place when it comes to addressing water treatment plants. On top of that, every water treatment facility is different from one another. Now, plant operators who work along the lake have come together to find the best method.

"We're out there scrambling around," Kelly Frey, the sanitary engineer from Ottawa County. "It's just been do the best you can."

According to Frey, his county has been using the chemical, activated carbon, to absorb the algae from the water before the supply is put through a filtration system. The county has also been testing the water three times a week. Due to the extra time and work put into managing water safety, Frey stated that water rates would inevitably increase.

"We can throw a little more money and defeat it for a while," explained David Leffler, Toledo's commissioner of plan operations. Leffler added that the bigger goal would be to cut down on the levels of phosphorus coming from farm fertilizer and other sources.

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