How Safe is Our Water Supply?

This summer (2014), the water supply in Toledo, Ohio showed high levels of the toxin, Microcystin, in the city drinking water. The warning came after tests at one treatment plant showed readings for Microcystin above the United States Environmental Agency’s (USEPA) standard for consumption. This toxin most likely came from algae in Lake Erie. This prompted Ohio Govenor, John Kasich, to declare a state of emergency. Bottled water, most of which comes from tap water and is not as strictly regulated as municipal drinking water, became scare. A number of stores ran out of bottled water. The threat has passed, as the high levels of Microcystin have returned to normal, but this event has left many wondering if it could happen again as 25 million people in the United States live near the Great Lakes. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also declared numerous advisories and warnings about toxic levels of Microcystin in 12 lakes in Kansas (three of which are near where I live). So what is Microcystin and what can we do about it?

Facts About Microcystin

  • What Microcystin does – The bacteria released from algae blooms can cause liver damage. It produces rashes, hives and blisters on the skin. When swallowed, it can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches and fever. There have been no known human deaths from microcystin, though it has killed pets and wildlife (Source: Minnesota Department of Health and California Environmental Protection Agency).
  • What causes Microcystin Warm, wet weather prompts the growth of blue-green algae blooms. Phosphorus from agricultural runoff feeds the growth of these blooms. Not all algae blooms are toxic, but you cannot tell whether a bloom is toxic by just looking at it (Source: Iowa Department of Health and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)).
  • Microcystin is not just a summer threat – Even after cooler weather causes the collapse of summer algal blooms, microcystin can remain in the water (Source: Iowa Department of Public Health).

What’s the Problem?

In the months before Toledo’s on drinking water, environmental groups and water researchers had called on Ohio and other states in the Great Lakes region to drastically reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie. In fact, Ohio lawmakers this past spring enacted a law requiring most farmers to undergo training before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields – but stopped short of mandating restrictions on farmers. The International Joint Commission (United States and Canadian officials) said last year urgent steps are needed to reduce phosphorus applied to fields. They suggested that states ban the spread of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground because it’s been estimated that agricultural runoff has been contributing to algae in Lake Erie for more than a decade. And the problem is getting worse. Nutrient enrichment and climate change is causing “an apparent increase in the toxicity of some algal blooms is freshwater lakes and estuaries around the world,” Oregon State University scientists said last year in the journal Science. Rising temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations also contribute to the problem.
But many other cities also risk Microcystin. The USEPA now considers harmful algal blooms to be a “major environmental problem” in all 50 states. NOAA and other groups help identify toxic algae outbreaks, and local municipalities in at-risk areas, such as Toledo, test their water supplies for the toxin. No federal community health standards exist for cyanotoxins. Some states have their own regulations based on the World Health Organization (WHO) standards of no more than 1 part per billion. Almost a year ago, one township just east of Toledo told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps because of the algal toxins. This is believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.

How Can We Protect Ourselves, Our Families and Our Pets?

In early August of this year, Biological Consulting Services of North Florida, Inc. tested water samples filtered through a new water filter. The water samples contained 10.4 ppb of Microcystin toxin prior to filtering and after filtering had a cumulative reduction of >96.5%. This lowered the level to below the WHO standard of 1 ppb, making it safe to drink. I only drink water filtered through this filter, even if the source claims it’s “filtered.” For more information about the dangers in our water supply and more information on the unique filter, please follow the link to Puritii Water Filter. Remember, know the source and purity of the water you put in your body!