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Ohio researchers working on solutions to combat harmful cyanobacteria blooms on Lake Erie

An aerial view of algae blooms in Lake Erie.
Scientists say the cyanobacterial blooms in Lake Erie are caused, in part, by climate change because of higher average temperatures.


It was this time five years ago that the city of Toledo placed a city-wide ban of tap water. Some half-million people were told not to use their tap for cooking, drinking, and bathing due to toxic cyanobacteria blooms growing in Lake Erie. 

Phosphorus, much from fertilizer run-off, and high temperatures contribute to the explosion of blooms. Scientists say the cyanobacteria blooms are caused, in part, by climate change because of higher averaging temperatures, and freshwater ecosystems around the world will see similar blooms.

Ohio researchers are doing all they can to find solutions for this “new normal." The Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative ? HABRI ? is made up of more than 50 science teams including Ohio colleges and universities.

Chris Winslow is the director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program at The Ohio State University, and has studied the toxic cyanobacteria and other Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie. He says the bloom is larger in 2019 than in previous years and the toxin levels are still high for the Maumee Bay Area where the water intake for Toledo is located. Since the creation of HABRI, there has been an uptick in research which will inform water treatment operators. 

“We’ve given them a lot more tools, technology and even early warning mechanisms so that even if the toxin levels at the bay were higher than they were in 2014, we do have the ability to properly treat the water so that it’s safe for consumption,” Winslow said. 

HABRI focuses on the impacts on human and pet health, bloom behavior, and the reduction of nutrients. Winslow thinks the crisis of the toxic cyanobacteria blooms will be mediated eventually. He says the farm industry produces 80-85% of the phosphorus deposits, but they are at the table in the discussions and working to improve their practices. 

“I’m really confident that we have the right agencies at the table, the right academics at the table, and the right producer groups, and suburban and urban residents to work towards an answer,” Winslow said. 

This post was written by production assistant Catherine Nouhan

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