In 2014, Toledo experienced a water crisis that caused the city to issue a “do not use” warning for more than 500,000 residents. They had to rely on bottled water; boiling wasn’t safe because it further released toxins into the water.
That crisis was caused by unsafe levels of the toxin Microcystin in the city’s treated water. The toxin came from the unprecedented algal bloom in Lake Erie; a huge swath of the west end of the lake blossomed with the algae.
The algae were growing rapidly because of the increasingly high nutrient load in lakes and streams. In particular: phosphorus. The bloom wasn’t as large as the 2011 giant that covered 5,000 sq. kilometers of the lake, but it was more deadly.
Not all algae – or, more properly, cyanobacteria – produce toxins. Many are benign and all play important roles in the environment. But those produced can cause illness and even be fatal, at least to animals. There are some 50 types of Microcystin, of which Microcystin-LR is the most common. And most dangerous: it causes severe and sometimes fatal liver damage.
In the past few months, oceanic algal blooms known as red tides have killed tens of thousands of fish off the coasts of Florida, Chile, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam. A 500-km bloom polluted one of Australia’s major rivers this spring.
Economies are suffering from algal blooms and their impact on fishing, tourism, shipping and recreation. In Chile alone, the devastation from algal blooms cost their salmon industry $800 million this year.
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