algae

Offbeat
10:57 am
Thu August 28, 2014

This guy gets all offended when you call him "algae"

That's me in the studio at Michigan Radio with ATC host Jennifer White. I think she finally gets it.
Credit Steve Chyrpinski

If you go out in western Lake Erie right now, you'll see us.

We turn the water green. The wakes of the boats -- normally a frothy white -- we turn them a frothy green.

We've been at it for billions of years, and the more you feed us (thank you farmers and the people of metro Detroit), the more we multiply in your warm slow moving waters. But when experts and reporters talk about us, they call us "toxic algae."

Algae? Seriously? Just because we look like plant-scum growing in the water doesn't mean that's what we are.

We are the only kind of bacteria that can release the microsystin toxin into water supplies.

Scientists are starting to call us by the right name. My scientist-friends talked with Rebecca Williams about it today for the Environment Report, thank goodness.

And now I'm trying to work on the reporters and hosts at Michigan Radio. 

See for yourself:

The Environment Report
9:39 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Green goo growing in Lake Erie is not what you think it is

Western Lake Erie turns green from cyanobacteria blooms.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The Environment Report for Thursday, August 28, 2014- Experts debate proper terminology for Lake Erie's green slime
 

Lately, that green slime in the lake has been all over the news after it shut down Toledo’s water supply.

Journalists, city and government officials have been calling that green slime  “blue-green algae”, “toxic algae” or “toxic algal blooms.”

Well, turns out that’s not exactly right.

“That’s just maddening,” said James Bull, a professor of biology and environmental science. He works at Wayne County Community College and Macomb Community College.

He says it’s not accurate to call the green slime that shut down Toledo’s water system “a toxic algal bloom.” 

He wrote to Michigan Radio because we were some of the people using the wrong term.

“It’s wrong because even though these organisms superficially look like algae, I think we ought to understand that these really are a kind of bacteria,” Bull said.

He says scientists used to call this stuff “blue-green algae.” Now they call it “cyanobacteria”. He says calling cyanobacteria "algae" is like calling a dolphin a fish.

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Health
1:00 pm
Sun August 17, 2014

Toledo officials stress water safe to drink

Officials say tests on untreated water coming into a city plant are showing a "strong presence" of the toxin microcystin, but the treated water is safe.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Toledo officials are stressing that the city's water is safe to drink as they continue to monitor for the toxin produced by Lake Erie cyanobacteria blooms  that shut down services two weeks ago to about 400,000 people.

Officials say tests on untreated water coming into a city plant are showing a "strong presence" of the toxin microcystin, but the treated water is safe.

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Environment & Science
1:23 pm
Sun August 10, 2014

Farms are focus of studies on drinking water toxin

Cyanobacteria in Lake Erie
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio – The findings of a toxin in the drinking water supply of 400,000 people in Ohio and southeastern Michigan a week ago is putting a big spotlight on how it got there.

Scientists and farmers agree that phosphorus from agriculture runoff is feeding the cyanobacteria blooms on Lake Erie linked to the microcystin toxin.

Political leaders are calling for more studies to find out why the blooms are increasing and how to control them. But a number of environmental groups say it's time for strict regulations on the agriculture industry.

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The Environment Report
12:19 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Report details ways to prevent, reduce cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie

Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Environment Report for August 5, 2014 - Report on reducing cyanobacteria blooms

A toxin produced by a kind of cyanobacteria contaminated Toledo's water supply over the weekend. It left 400,000 people without drinking water.

Blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) like these happen when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off into Lake Erie from farms and sewage treatment plants.

The International Joint Commission is an independent organization that gives advice to the U.S. and Canada on Great Lakes issues. Earlier this year, the IJC put out a report on how to prevent these blooms.

Raj Bejankiwar, of the Commission's Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario, is the lead scientist on that report.

Cyanobacteria blooms were a problem in the '60s and '70s, but then they went away and in the 2000s they started coming back. Bejankiwar says it's because of runoff, mainly from farms.

"We have to stop feeding algae their food, which is phosphorus. We use that extensively in the agriculture land and Toledo is right in the ground zero zone for algae, especially the Maumee River watershed." Bejankiwar adds that in the past few years, heavy storms have washed phosphorus-filled fertilizer from farms. "It ends up in the Maumee River and then finally in Lake Erie."

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Environment & Science
9:30 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Toledo mayor lifts water ban

National Wildlife Federation President Collin O'Mara holding a glass of Lake Erie water.
Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Update Monday, August 4th, 9:40am: Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins says the water ban is lifted in northwest Ohio and drinking water for 400,000 residents is safe. We'll have more details as they come in.

Sunday, August 3, 2014:   More than 400,000 people in Toledo and surrounding areas are without drinking water for a second day, due to a huge cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie, where the area gets its water supply.  The cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, create a dangerous toxin called microcystin, and exposure to the toxin can cause serious health issues. 

On Sunday afternoon, a boat hastily chartered by the National Wildlife Federation cruises over to see the massive cyanobacteria bloom floating near the city of Toledo.  It's hot, and it's a pretty day, but the water looks oddly bright green.

That's the cyanobacteria bloom. The blooms have been appearing for a couple of decades, but they're getting worse.

Toledo Councilman Larry Sykes says he and other officials have been worried about this for a long time.

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Health
4:57 pm
Sat August 2, 2014

Ohio's governor declares 'state of emergency' in Toledo

Some Michigan communities are affected by water problems just across the state border in Toledo, Ohio.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The mayor of Ohio's fourth-largest city says water will be flowing into the Toledo area from all corners of the state to help the 400,000 people who are being warned not to drink the city's water.

Toledo's mayor says water is coming from Akron, Cincinnati and even a prison near Columbus.

City officials issued the warning Saturday after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly from cyanobacteria on Lake Erie.

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Environment & Science
8:17 am
Sat August 2, 2014

Toledo issues water warning over cyanobacteria toxin

Credit jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's fourth-largest city has warned residents not to consume its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly related to cyanobacteria on Lake Erie. Toledo issued the warning early Saturday. It said tests at one treatment plant returned two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption. The city warned against boiling because it will only increase the toxin's concentration.

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Environment & Science
4:26 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

Scientists find cyanobacteria bloom near Maumee River

When tiny microscopic plants (top photo) bloom out of control, it's called an 'algal bloom' (bottom photo).
Credit NOAA.gov

Scientists are working to identify a cyanobacteria bloom near the Maumee River. It's a yearly event that occurs during the warm summer months.

Researchers at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory confirmed that the cyanobacteria bloom has been intensifying over the last week.

Also known as blue-green algae, it can be harmful to the aquatic environment and to people. People shouldn't swim in a bloom- it can cause skin rashes or even severe stomach problems.

Tim Davis is a research biologist with the lab. 

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The Environment Report
2:02 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

Researchers predict smaller cyanobacteria problem in Lake Erie this year

Algae blooms are predicted to be smaller in Lake Erie in 2014. Last year's bloom was large due to a relatively wet spring followed by a wet July.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

 

Listen to today's Environment Report: fracking rules and algae forecast

The forecast is in: the green goo will be back on Lake Erie this year, but it won’t be as bad as last year.

The big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) happen when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants. Some of these kinds of cyanobacteria produce toxins can harm pets and make the water unsafe to drink.

Rick Stumpf is an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says they’re predicting this year’s bloom in Lake Erie will be significant, but not as bad as it has been in recent years. The blooms reached a record level in 2011.

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The Environment Report
4:27 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Pushing to expand the ban on a lawn care ingredient

Fertilizer without phosphorus, indicated by the 0 on the bag.
Credit Julie Grant

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

Cyanobacteria blooms continue to plague Lake Erie. Farms and wastewater have gotten a lot of attention for contributing nutrients that create these harmful blooms.

More recently, the spotlight has focused on lawn care. Grass fertilizers can also contain phosphorus that winds up in waterways. Michigan and other states around the Great Lakes have already banned lawn fertilizers that contain phosphorus. Now international regulators and others are pushing Ohio and Pennsylvania to do the same.

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Stateside
3:58 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

What can be done about cyanobacteria blooms and dead zones in Lake Erie?

Algae in Lake Erie.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

If you lived in Michigan in the 1960s and '70s, you will remember: Lake Erie was on the "critical list." It was once declared dead.

But it got back on the road to health and recovery until the mid-1990s.

That's when the lake started showing signs of distress, with large cyanobacteria blooms (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae blooms) and dead zones showing up again.

Now comes a report from an international agency that keeps a close eye on the health of the Great Lakes, and it is a clarion call to action. Among the agencies contributing to the report is the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan.

Don Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story referred to "algae blooms" in Lake Erie. These are really bacterial blooms (cyanobacteria) that look like algae. The copy has been clarified above.

Environment & Science
12:43 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

More action needed to clean up Lake Erie, says international agency

Algae blooms have once again become common in western Lake Erie.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Massive blooms of cyanbacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones in Lake Erie: These used to be major environmental problems around the most urbanized Great Lake back in the '60s and '70s, but they are problems once again.

Now, an international agency that keeps an eye on the health of the Great Lakes is calling for more action.

The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, wants sharp cutbacks on phosphorus runoff getting into Lake Erie.

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Environment Report
7:58 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Why are Great Lakes birds dying from botulism?

The common loon
Credit Steve Maslowski/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Imagine walking down a picturesque beach along Lake Michigan, and stumbling upon the carcasses of dead birds. That’s a very real and unpleasant problem along Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie. (It’s not as big of an issue in Lake Superior because of the lake’s colder water temperatures.)

Loons and other deep-diving birds are suffering from a disease called avian botulism. It’s form of food poisoning that kills wild birds in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

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Environment & Science
3:08 pm
Sun December 15, 2013

Lake Erie to be focus of Ohio legislative group

Sport fishing boat on Lake Erie.
Credit Mark Brush/Michigan Radio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A bipartisan group of Ohio lawmakers plans to make Lake Erie the focus of discussions next year.

State Sens. Randy Gardner, a Bowling Green Republican, and Capri Cafaro, a Democrat from Hubbard, say the Lake Erie Caucus will meet in January to address state and federal policies related to the body of water.

The group will look at ways to preserve the environmental health of the lake and to work on related economic growth and tourism issues.

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Environment & Science
10:38 am
Sun December 15, 2013

Study finds food supplies drop in Lakes Huron, Michigan

NOAA

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Food supplies for fish and other organisms are declining in some areas of the Great Lakes, particularly Lakes Huron and Michigan, according to a newly released scientific report.

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Environment & Science
12:48 pm
Tue November 5, 2013

'Lake Erie has 2% of the water in the Great Lakes, but 50% of the fish'

The 2011 algae bloom on Lake Erie. Significant blooms returned to Lake Erie around 2000-01. Researchers are looking into how these blooms affect fish.

The stat comes from Jeff Reutter, Director of Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory. He says the converse is true for Lake Superior. It holds 50% of the water, but just 2% of the fish.

It's a rough estimate, he says, but it gives you a good understanding of how each of the five Great Lakes have unique characteristics, which present unique challenges in managing these lakes.

As part of our series on how climate change is affecting the Great Lakes, Reutter spoke to us about how Lake Erie is especially vulnerable to temperature variations. It is the southernmost, and the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.

He also spoke about how, unlike the other four Great Lakes, Lake Erie is surrounded by agriculture and a more urbanized landscape.

You can listen to him speak about his "50 and 2 Rule" here:

Lake Erie has seen a resurgence in blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) over the last ten years. It was once a big problem in the 60s and 70s, and it has returned as a problem again.

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The Environment Report
9:05 am
Tue October 8, 2013

Algal blooms causing concern in northern lakes

Hamlin Lake on Ludington State Park.
Flickr

For years Lake Erie has been the poster child in the Great Lakes for the problem of toxic algae.

More recently, though, the problem has been showing up farther north around Lake Michigan.

Figuring out the causes of the algal blooms can be tough since watersheds are complex systems but some environmentalists are pointing the finger at corn. It’s a valuable cash crop today and could be a growing part of the farm landscape in the Great Lakes in the years ahead.

Algal bloom hits Mason County

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The Environment Report
9:03 am
Fri October 4, 2013

Warmer waters fuel toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the Great Lakes

Algae scooped out of Maumee Bay in Lake Erie.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) are reappearing in the western basin (and sometimes the central basin) of Lake Erie.

The blooms happen when excess nutrients – mostly phosphorus – run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

Some of these kinds of cyanobacteria produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons on Earth.

Over the past decade, these cyanobacteria blooms have been common in Lake Erie. And scientists predict climate change could make the problem worse.

Read more
Stateside
1:11 pm
Tue August 27, 2013

What is causing the Green Bay dead zone and can it be fixed?

Excess algae is creating a dead zone.
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory Flickr

An interview with Don Scavia, an aquatic ecologist with the University of Michigan and the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute.

There's a "dead zone" in Green Bay.

That may sound like a title of a Stephen King novel, but it is happening in Lake Michigan's Green Bay. A growing dead zone with so little oxygen that fish can't survive. Neither can smaller critters.

Don Scavia is an aquatic ecologist with the University of Michigan and the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute. He joined us today to talk about what’s causing this dead zone and what can be done to fix it.

Listen to the full interview above.

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