Ohio EPA Finds Algae Toxins in Public Drinking Water Supplies

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has reported that tests of public drinking water systems indicate a small amount of microcystin, a liver toxin produced by blue-green algae. The concentration of the toxin is within the safety guidelines set by the World Health Organization, but officials will continue to monitor the waters.

Microcystin in High Doses Can Cause Liver Cell Death

Officials from the Ohio EPA found, through sampling 11 public drinking water systems whose source water is drawn from Lake Erie’s western basin, that microcystin was present in finished (treated) water at 0.23 parts per billion in Oregon (near Toledo) and 0.16 ppb in Carroll Township (Ottawa County).

Drinking water guidelines established by WHO has set the maximum amount of microcystins at 1.0 ppb.

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Microcystins are hepatotoxic, meaning that they cause necrosis (cell death) and pooling of blood in the liver. The toxins attack the hepatocyte (liver cells) and disrupt the cytoskeleton, the framework of the cell. The cells die, destroying the fine blood vessels in the liver leading to massive hepatic bleeding.

Damage to the liver is rapid and irreversible if high enough levels of microcystins are consumed. Symptoms can include abnormal liver function tests, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness.

Cyanobacterium, or blue-green algae, can grow rapidly in water rich in organic matter during warm weather. “Algal blooms” floating on the surface of the water are frequently tested for toxins as they can quickly exceed safe levels.

Microcystins are stable in water and air, but can be inactivated by high levels of chlorine during water purification.

Because the toxin levels are within the guidelines, the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) have not placed consumption advisories on drinking water from these systems. Water can be used for drinking, bathing, cooking, and all other uses.

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