Toledo Mayor Lifts Water Ban

Toledo officials issued the water warning in Ohio's fourth-largest city early Saturday after tests revealed the presence of a toxin likely from algae on Lake Erie.(Photo: NOAA)
Toledo officials issued the water warning in Ohio's fourth-largest city early Saturday after tests revealed the presence of a toxin likely from algae on Lake Erie.(Photo: NOAA)

A water ban that had hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio and Michigan scrambling for drinking water has been lifted, Toledo’s mayor announced Monday.

Mayor D. Michael Collins lifted the ban at a Monday morning news conference, and said the city’s drinking water is safe.

Ohio’s fourth-largest city warned residents not to use city water early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, most likely from algae on the lake. Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency.

Early Monday, Collins kept in place an advisory against drinking or using the water pending additional tests. At a 3 a.m. news conference, Collins said it was his decision to keep the advisory in place at least into the morning hours, even though latest test results suggest the algae-induced toxin contaminating Lake Erie had probably dissipated to safe levels. The mayor said two tests had come back “too close for comfort.”

With the warning, worried residents told not to drink, brush their teeth or wash dishes with the water descended on truckloads of bottled water delivered from across the state. The Ohio National Guard was using water purification systems to produce drinkable water.

Oliver Arnold, of Toledo, loaded up on bottled water Sunday so that he could give baths to his six children, including 4-month-old twins. “We’re going through a lot. I know by tomorrow, we’re going to be looking for water again,” he said.

Some hospitals canceled elective surgeries and were sending surgical equipment that needed sterilized to facilities outside the water emergency, said Bryan Biggie, disaster coordinator for ProMedica hospitals in Toledo.

In southeastern Michigan, authorities were operating water stations Sunday for the 30,000 customers affected by the toxic contamination.

Drinking the water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes. But no serious illnesses had been reported by late Sunday. Health officials advised children and those with weak immune systems to avoid showering or bathing in the water.

Amid the emergency, discussion began to center around how to stop the pollutants fouling the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people.

“People are finally waking up to the fact that this is not acceptable,” Collins said.

The toxins that contaminated the region’s drinking water supply didn’t just suddenly appear.

Water plant operators along western Lake Erie have long been worried about this very scenario as a growing number of algae blooms have turned the water into a pea soup color in recent summers, leaving behind toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

In fact, the problems on the shallowest of the five Great Lakes brought on by farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a satellite image showing a small but concentrated algae bloom centered right where Toledo draws its water supply, said Jeff Reutter, head of the Ohio Sea Grant research lab.

The bloom was much smaller than in past years and isn’t expected to peak until early September. But instead of being pushed out to the middle of the lake, winds and waves drove the algae toward the shore, he said.

“Weather conditions made it such that bloom was going right into the water intakes,” said Reutter, who has been studying the lake since the 1970s, when it was severely polluted.

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