Oregon administrator: Toledo water crisis likely ‘false positive’Written by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As area residents scrambled for bottled water during the so-not-drink advisory in August, many people wondered why Oregon residents did not experience a similar emergency. Oregon’s treatment facility is fed by the same Lake Erie water. “Why wouldn’t Oregon be affected as well?” area residents asked.
According to Oregon City Administrator Mike Beazley, the answer is simple: Toledo suffered from a “false positive.” The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed the testing protocol, giving Toledo a reading above the level of 1.0 parts per billion (ppb) considered safe, he said.
“Folks at our plant think it’s likely the Toledo problem resulted from a false positive test,” Beazley, a former Lucas County administrator, said Sept. 29 after speaking at a monthly meeting of the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce in Oregon. The topic of his talk was the Oregon Water Treatment Plant.
The state changed the testing protocol used at the treatment plants the morning of Aug. 2, Beazley said.
That morning a high level of microcystin was detected in the water at Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, which triggered the do-not-drink advisory. Microcystin is the toxin released by blue-green algae that forms in Lake Erie.
It wasn’t a decrepit Collins Park Water Treatment facility that caused the water crisis, but simply a reading that would have been considered normal had the EPA not changed its testing protocol, Beazley said.
Also, water that tests high in pH levels can also give a false positive reading, he said.
Oregon Mayor Mike Seferian previously told Toledo Free Press his city has an advantage over Toledo because it handles only about 1/12 the volume of water that Toledo’s water plant does. He compared it to cleaning a MINI Cooper versus cleaning a bus after driving it through mud.
“It’s a little more than luck,” he said. “But our job is a little easier than theirs.”
Despite coming through Toledo’s water crisis “unscathed,” Oregon has met with faculty at the University of Toledo, members of the Ohio EPA and area legislators since the water crisis to make sure they are doing everything they can to ensure the best water possible.
“We don’t think we can afford to get this wrong long-term,” Beazley said. “Oregon will stay ahead of this.”
Oregon adjusts its water treatment process all the time, he said, trying to find the most effective means of killing microcystin and other unwanted substances in the water.
Currently, they are looking into three potential technologies to add to their water treatment process: dissolved air flotation, ozone or granulated carbon alternatives.
“We might choose some combinations,” Beazley said. “We’re running tests on them right now and we’re looking to make a decision on this in the coming months and will take prompt action.”
Depending on which technologies they choose, the city will upgrade its plant accordingly, which will cost millions of dollars, he said.
Beazley is concerned that Oregon might be a candidate for a false positive because of the high levels of pH that typically found in the water system, he said.
“Treated water in this region has a high pH-level and literature in the field says that when you have a higher pH level that the type of testing we use cam become unreliable and generate false positives.”
Stacy Weber, public information officer for Mayor D. Michael Collins, wrote in an Oct. 1 email to Toledo Free Press, “There is no scientific evidence to prove or disprove the existence of a false positive. We worked closely with the EPA throughout the Do Not Drink advisory to ensure that decisions were made with public safety and health in mind. Our current testing and sampling procedures, as agreed upon with the EPA, are now being used statewide and we are confident in the results.”
In the meantime, Oregon has asked the state for consistent testing guidelines.
“Oregon’s team is interested in a long-term, consistent testing protocol,” Beazley said. “Getting it right is important to Oregon.”
Beazley joined the City of Oregon as administrator in March 2010. He has served for more than 25 years in leadership positions in local government and public policy, most recently as Lucas County administrator.