News / Science & Technology

Algal Overload Infects Global Waterways

Algae Overload Infects Global Waterwaysi
X
Rosanne Skirble
August 06, 2014 10:16 PM
This week 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, could not drink the water. The city’s water supply from Lake Erie was polluted with a toxin linked to the overgrowth of algae. While the water is now safe to drink, harmful algal blooms are not going away any time soon in Ohio or elsewhere in the United States and around the globe. VOA's Rosanne Skirble has the story.
Rosanne Skirble

This week 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, could not drink the water. The city’s water supply was polluted with a toxin linked to the overgrowth of algae.  A pea green scum settled over the city’s water intake pipes.  For 72 hours the residents relied on handouts of bottled water, which one woman said was stressful. “I have four children and dogs at home," she said, as she picked up free water. “I wanted to make sure we had enough water to brush our teeth and be able to drink it.”

Toledo gets its water from Lake Erie, which is the source of fresh water for 11 million people in the American Midwest.  

Algae overload global problem

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Lake Erie is by no means unique. Algal overload is common in waterways worldwide caused by fertilizer runoff and poor sewage management. Excessive algae deplete oxygen in the water and kill fish says Laura Johnson, a research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.

“It also becomes a problem when the type of algae that are growing is a cyanobacteria that can produce toxins," she said. "And when that happens then we have issues, because then those toxins can be in places like our drinking water, or we can get in contact with it if we’re trying to swim there.”    

Toxins can damage the liver and nervous system. Global warming is making the problem worse. Changing weather patterns produce stronger, more intense winds and storms which move more nutrients off the land.  Johnson says in Ohio the algal season is a long one.

“The bloom that’s been happening most recently, I mean it’s just started. That’s part of the reason it’s so scary for Toledo right now is because this is the very beginning of the season," she said. "Most of the bloom occurs usually, and gets the largest, in September and October.”   
 
Satellites track algae outbreaks
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks the bloom from space and uses the satellite data to track the bloom and estimate their concentration, says NOAA oceanographer Richard Stumpf. “We can’t tell you if it’s toxic, but we can tell you if it’s there and how much there is.”

This helps alert scientists and public officials to take action.  Stumpf says to better manage the problem NOAA is also gathering data on the phosphorous that drives the bloom.

“It’s only the spring phosphorous that creates the bloom in the summer," he said. "Knowing that means that you can now create a strategy for how do you modify fertilizing practices, how do you modify cultivating practices so that the phosphorous stays on the fields, so it stays there and doesn’t run into the rivers and then into the lake.”

Keep nutrients on land

Laura Johnson agrees that the long-term goal must be to keep nutrients on the land. She calls for continued monitoring of farmers' land and water quality. “So that if for some reason a practice is not working as well as we think it should be, then we can change what we are doing and what we are recommending to farmers.”

Advocates for clean water want stiffer controls and greater cash incentives to encourage farmers to adopt best agricultural practices. Farmers balk at tighter regulations and recently saw a reduction in federal funds to address the issue. As the debate continues, one thing is certain. The algal problem is not going away any time soon.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More