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Two years after shutdown, Toledo water "unpleasant" but "better than being poisoned," activist says

Satellite image of algal bloom in Lake Erie taken in 2015.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Satellite image of algal bloom in Lake Erie taken in 2015.


Two years after Toledo’s water supply was shut down by so-called blue-green algae, people are still worried about the safety of the city’s drinking water.

Toxins called microcystins are sometimes produced by certain freshwater cyanobacteria blooms. Those blooms are more likely under certain conditions, and every summer Toledo is on the watch for an increase.

Tom Henry is a columnist with the Toledo Blade and has extensively covered this problem in Lake Erie.

Henry told us that the water quality wasn’t too bad this year. He said this year’s bloom was “toxic in some areas, but still considered fairly mild in terms of volume and biomass.”

Despite that and the myriad measures the city is taking to ensure their water’s safety, he told us many Toledoans still don’t feel great about using their tap water.

“The late mayor Michael Collins, we talked a lot about this during the water crisis, and he told me afterward that it was a crisis of confidence. He said people lost faith, lost confidence in us as they should have because we let them down,” Henry said.

We also spoke with activist and former Ohio Green Party gubernatorial candidate Anita Rios, who lived through the water shutdown in Toledo two years ago.

“Just consider what your day would be like if that happened. We couldn’t make coffee, we couldn’t even wash our face or brush our teeth,” she said.

She told us that the water is now safe to drink, but it has a definite chlorine taste to it.

“It’s an unpleasant thing,” she said, “but it’s certainly better than being poisoned.”

Both Rios and Henry told us there are similarities between the water crisis in Toledo and that in Flint.

“The parallels between Toledo and Flint are there in terms of missed warning signs,” Henry told us.

“There are huge similarities between Toledo and Flint,” Rios said. “Of course we’re both rust belt towns that I feel are largely forgotten, and I think that for us, the ordinary citizens, the important thing is that we need to push for some of these changes, because it’s not going to get better without our voice.”

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