At a press conference on Monday morning, the mayor of Toledo, Michael Collins, lifted the ban on drinking water after the federal Environmental Protection Agency performed an analysis to determine that the water is safe for public use. The residents of Toledo, the fourth largest city in Ohio, were without water for three days after tests revealed high levels of toxins in the city’s water supply. The 400,000 people in the area were ordered not to use tap water to drink, brush their teeth, prepare food, or give to their pets. Health officials also advised that children and people with weak immune systems should refrain from using the water to shower or bathe.
Treatment plants found unsafe levels of microcystin, a toxin that turns water green and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, or abnormal liver function. This toxin is likely to be caused by harmful blue-green algae blooms growing in Lake Erie. The blooms are often caused by runoff from overfertilized fields, manure, malfunctioning septic systems, and storm water drains that all wash huge amounts of phosphorus into the lake. Residents were instructed not to boil the water, which would increase the concentration of microcystin. The level of the microcystin has now stabilized below what the World Health Organization deems acceptable.
Environmental groups have been concerned about the steadily increasing amount of algae blooms in recent years because Lake Erie supplies water for 11 million people. Ohio lawmakers took a step towards solving the algae problem when they enacted a law this past spring that requires most farmers to undergo training before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields. Additionally, a state task force in Ohio has called for a 40 percent reduction in all forms of phosphorus going into the lake.