cyanobacteria

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to do more to help cities deal with toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie.

"Particularly when they see something where you have an entire region could not utilize their own drinking water supply," says Miller, referring to a two-day shutdown of Toledo's water supply in August. 

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The images of sludgy-looking green water coming out of taps this summer in Ohio and parts of Southeast Michigan are hard to forget. 

More than 400,000 people saw their water contaminated by toxins from cyanobacteria and algal blooms on Lake Erie. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

The images of green water in Lake Erie and foul, toxic tap water in Toledo certainly got many of us at least thinking about what's coming out of our taps.

What is Michigan doing to protect our drinking water, the water we get from the Great Lakes system, against cyanobacteria, the toxin that led to a ban on tap water usage in Toledo last month?

Dan Wyant is the director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says there needs to be a comprehensive plan to deal with the problems. 

"We all need to work toward improving water qualities throughout not only the Great Lakes, but also rivers and streams," says Wyant.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Consumers in Ohio's fourth-largest city may be asked to voluntarily conserve water next year to limit demand and help reduce contamination from toxins left by Lake Erie algae.

Such toxins fouled water for 400,000 people in the Toledo area last month, leaving some without clean tap water for two days.

The Blade newspaper reports the water treatment commissioner talked about the planned conservation request during a panel discussion this week. Commissioner Tim Murphy says lowering demand would allow water to be treated for longer periods of time.

Lake Improvement Association / Flickr

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The federal government is coming up with more money to help farmers cut down on the fertilizers that are feeding cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, in Lake Erie.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced Friday that an additional $1 million will go into a program that will give grants to farmers who plant winter crops.

Researchers say winter crops help to stop fertilizers from washing into streams and rivers that flow into Lake Erie.

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

Aug 28, 2014
That's me in the studio at Michigan Radio with ATC host Jennifer White. I think she finally gets it.
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:

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

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.

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
Richard Hsu / Flickr

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Residents of a small Canadian island are being warned not to drink their well water because of potentially toxic bacteria in Lake Erie.

Cyanobacteria blooms causing the warning are the same stuff that contaminated the drinking water of about 400,000 people in the Toledo area earlier this month.

Some 300 people who live on Canada's Pelee Island year-round are also being told not to bathe or cook with water from their private wells that draw water from the lake.

The warning from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in Ontario also says residents and visitors to the island shouldn't swim in the lake.

The island about 50 miles east of Toledo is situated along the U.S.-Canadian border in Lake Erie.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The recent Toledo water crisis has farmers in Michigan and Ohio on the defensive. They’re pointing to a number of voluntary efforts they’re making to reduce phosphorus runoff to Lake Erie. That runoff is the main food source for the blooms of a kind of cyanobacteria that release a toxin that led to the water shutdown. But farm groups and environmentalists say a new state law in Ohio that will certify the use of fertilizers doesn't go far enough or happen fast enough. 

"Basically, the new law will require that all farmers and certified crop advisors who spread chemical fertilizer on fields go through a certification process where they will learn how to spread the fertilizer in the right place, at the right rate, at the right time of year," says Karen Schaefer, an Ohio reporter who is covering this issue. "And the problem with it is: right now it does not include manure and the law does not go into effect until 2017."

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

Michigan environmental officials say most of the state’s drinking water is safe from the sort of contamination that forced the city of Toledo to issue a don’t-drink emergency order.

Tests determined water from Lake Erie was contaminated with microsystin toxin produced by a type of cyanobacteria. The bacteria looks a lot like pea-green algae growing in the water.

At high-enough levels, the toxin can cause health issues such as nervous system or liver damage.

Steve Busch is a state water specialist. He says about 34,000 people in southeast Michigan lost access to safe drinking water because they get it through the Toledo system, but he says many more could be effected by a more widespread crisis.

“We have about 100,000 people that are relying on drinking water from Lake Erie as a source itself.”

Busch says other Great Lakes are deeper and cleaner, and not as susceptible to problems created by the bacteria.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

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."

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The city of Toledo has lifted a drinking water ban

The ban went into effect early Saturday after tests showed high levels of a toxin in the city’s drinking water. 

The toxin came from a bloom of cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae,  near the city's water intake.  

Mayor D. Michael Collins says city officials will take the next 48 hours to assess how the emergency was handled.

Gary Fahnenstiel is a research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Water Center. He said that these blooms have been around for a while, and perhaps this event can push us toward treatment and mitigation of cyanobacteria blooms.

"This probably caught the public more as a surprise than the scientists or the water quality professionals," Fahnenstiel said. 

* 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.

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.

Lake Improvement Association / Flickr

The western end of Lake Erie, especially near Toledo, is seeing a lot of cyanobacteria this year. It’s been worse, but this year's cyanobacteria bloom is larger than average.

And we’re seeing a kind of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) that can produce a toxin. It can make you sick if you swim in it. It can make pets sick. And it’s a problem for water purification plants and drinking water, too.

Don Scavia is the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. He’s also an aquatic ecologist.

When Lake Erie was considered “dead” back in the 1960s and '70s, these cyanobacteria blooms were a contributing factor.

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. 

The Detroit automakers are moving into their fifth year of recovery after the disastrous bottoming-out of 2009 when General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. Half a decade later, however, sales are brisk and auto loans are available. But is the future that bright? On today's show: Are there warning signs of another auto downturn? And, if so, what needs to happen to stop it?

Then, what will our rivers and roads look like once spring hits and the snow melts? We spoke with meteorologist Jim Maczko to find out.

Lake Erie is full of blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones, and a new report is asking us to take action. What can be done to improve the health of this lake?

Also, how about adding smell to food advertising? 

First on the show, are Michigan veterans getting what they deserve in terms of benefits and support?

The Veterans' Administration says when it comes to per-capita spending on veterans, Michigan checks in at an average of just over $3,400 per vet. The national average is over $4,800. That places Michigan last in the nation.

What is the state doing about this and to make sure that veterans get all the benefits to which they're entitled?

The director of Michigan's Veterans Affairs Agency, Jeff Barnes, joined us today.

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.