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

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

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