What's in the Jar? Water from Western Lake Erie

The jar is full of water from Maumee Bay near Lake Erie gathered last week.  It’s dark green – a sign of microcystis, a type of blue-green algae that can produce harmful toxins.  The toxins can be dangerous to humans and pets if injected, inhaled, or touched.

Microcystis is a problem mainly in the western basin of Lake Erie, showing up on the coasts of Michigan and Ohio every summer.

The problem is mostly due to an overabundance of nutrients in the lake, mainly phosphorus.  Being the shallowest and the warmest part of all of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie’s western basin is also the hub of agriculture in region.  Because of this, agricultural runoff - chemicals flowing off of fields during rain events – is very common. 

The algae-bloom season every summer can shut down beaches and threaten drinking water.  Just last week, the city of Toledo’s water quality was on “watch”, following microcystin levels above 5 parts per billion in raw lake water near the city’s water intake.  At this time, Cleveland's water is safe from the green, scummy waters of algae blooms.  Instead, nutrient pollution manifests in another way in Lake Erie's central basin.  It's called hypoxia -- a condition that depletes oxygen levels and makes parts of central Lake Erie uninhabitable for fish.

Back in 2014, microcystin in Lake Erie prompted a 2-day “Do not drink or boil” advisory for the thousands of Toledo residents who relied on Lake Erie for drinking water.  

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