VIDEO: Experts address Lake Erie’s toxic algae at forumWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Russ Axon, Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
Over 250 people attended a forum hosted by the University of Toledo on Aug. 5 to discuss the city’s recent water crisis.
The forum, “Harmful Algae in Ohio’s Great Lake,” was sponsored by UT’s Lake Erie Research Center and Urban Affairs Center and featured faculty experts from UT and Bowling Green State University, all of who have experience with studies or issues related to the Great Lakes. Each panelist spoke about a specific aspect of the algae bloom before taking questions from the audience and Twitter.
Dr. Nagi Naganathan, UT’s interim president, clarified that the forum was only meant to educate the public about the causes of the toxic water and discuss actions to prevent a repeat scenario.
“We are not going to try to present a commentary on the past few days,” he said. “This panel is going to look deep into the past, and it is going to look forward.”
The panel consisted of UT professors Carol Stepien, professor of ecology and and director of the UT Lake Erie Research Center; Dr. Thomas C. Sodeman, Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology; Isabel Escobar, professor of chemical and environmental engineering; Patrick Lawrence, professor of geography and planning; and Kenneth Kilbert, professor of law and director of the Legal Institute of the Great Lakes; as well as R. Michael McKay, professor of biology at BGSU.
The panel agreed that the primary problem was the high levels of reactive phosphorus from agricultural waste washing into the lake. Phosphorus is a nutrient for the microcystis algae that excretes the microcystin toxin.
The panel explained that the toxin presents a unique challenge.
Sodeman said the levels of microcystin in the water was potentially fatal for animals, but not for humans.
“No person has ever died from drinking this stuff,” he said. “It can cause trouble, but you really have to mess with the stuff at very high levels.”
Escobar said the microcystin is released when the algae cell breaks apart or dies, so most preventative measures, such as boiling or filtering the water, will only concentrate the toxin. She said that new water filtration techniques can be very effective but should not be seen as a solution.
“We cannot kill [microcystin] because it’s already dead,” Escobar said. “We want to get rid of the algae itself.”
When asked if the water was actually safe, Escobar assured the audience by drinking from a glass of tap water.
The panel cited other contributing factors to the algae bloom, including climate change, invasive species and outdated septic systems.
Panelists added that this year’s algae season still hasn’t peaked, and it could be a problem for more Lake Erie localities.
“This is a large-scale, regional problem, and it’s going to take a solution at that scale,” Lawrence said.
The panel recommended several actions to help combat the algae bloom, many which focused on decreasing the phosphorus output from agriculture. Other solutions included upgrading Toledo’s water treatment plants and filtration systems, improving farming machinery and techniques and stronger regulations on fertilizer usage. Kilbert said these changes require action from every level of government and multiple states.
“There’s no silver bullet that’s going to solve the problem,” he said.
Stepien said Lake Erie had similarly high levels of phosphorus during the 1970s and early ’80s but significantly reduced them through new regulations and technology.
“We’ve done this before, we can do it again,” she said. “This closure of our Toledo water is the wake-up.”
Here is the full 90-minute forum:
Tags: algae, algal bloom, BGSU, Bowling Green State University, Carol Stepien, discussion, forum, Isabel Escobar, Kenneth Kilbert, Lake Erie, panel, Patrick Lawrence, Robert McKay, Thomas C. Sodeman, toxin, University of Toledo, UT