With 600,000 people at the west end of Lake Erie advised Saturday not to drink their tap water due to the presence of a toxin, experts here said water remains safe.
“There’s no cause for alarm here,” said Paul Whittam, director of water quality services at the Erie County Water Authority. “Water quality is excellent on this end of the lake.”
Water at a Toledo, Ohio, treatment plant has tested positive for microcystin, a toxin known to cause liver and kidney damage, leaving thousands of Ohio residents without water and prompting a state of emergency Saturday.
Gov. John Kasich declared the state of emergency for the 600,000 residents of Lucas and Wood counties after two water samples tested positive for microcystin, a toxin possibly caused by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.
The west end of Lake Erie is susceptible to algae blooms because it is shallow and the current is slow, said Whittam.
“We’re fortunate that on our end of the lake, the water is much deeper and the currents are much faster,” he said.
Water treatment plant operators along Lake Erie communicate with each other and share information, including satellite imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Whittam.
There is nothing to indicate water quality here has been compromised and the authority will increase sampling and testing of water, he added.
“Residents should not be concerned about the water quality,” he said. “The quality of water is excellent. You should have no concerns over the issues that are affecting Toledo. They are not going to be here.”
In Toledo, chemists were conducting tests at the city’s Collins Water Treatment Plant when the samples tested positive for microcystin. Residents were advised not to drink water or even boil it.
While water service has not been shut off in Toleo, Chris Abbruzzese, Ohio’s emergency operations spokesman, warned residents to use the water only to shower or wash their faces. He advised residents not bathe their children because they may accidentally ingest the water.
He could not say when the water would again be safe to drink.
Microcystin is one of several toxins that can be produced by an algal bloom. In the alert, Toledo officials said Lake Erie, a water source for Toledo and the larger Lucas County area, may have experienced such a bloom recently.
Symptoms of microcystin ingestion can include diarrhea, nausea, dizziness and abnormal liver function, according to the alert.
In severe cases, seizures and respiratory arrest may occur, according to a 2012 report from the Environmental Protection Agency, but fatalities are rare.
Algal blooms occur when bodies of water receive excess phosphorous and nitrogen, which can be produced by fertilizer runoff or broken septic systems, Toledo officials said. While the toxins are harmful to humans, they are more likely to kill animals, according to the EPA report.
According to the Associated Press, Saturday’s incident marks the first time a large city has been forced to issue a “do not drink” order after algae-related toxins were found in Lake Erie. A similar incident affected 2,000 residents of a smaller community east of Toledo in 2013.
Abbruzzese said the Ohio Department of Transportation and National Guard were working to deliver water to the area.
The state’s Department of Corrections also has access to a milk processing plant in Columbus, about two hours south of Toledo, and the agency was using it to produce water for city residents.
Toledo is Ohio’s fourth largest city.
News Staff Reporter Joseph Popiolkowski contributed to this report.