TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - Following the lifting of a water usage ban for the Toledo area, the Toledo Department of Public Utilities presented a 73-page preliminary report to the City of Toledo on the issue.
City leaders say an algal bloom right at the water intake site on Lake Erie caused a spike in toxin levels, which was noticed Friday at the Collins Water Park Treatment Plant.
According to the report, chemists at the treatment plant found a "lysed sample reading of 0.6 for microcystins" early Friday evening.
It wasn't until 1:30 Saturday morning that the City of Toledo sent out a water usage advisory to the public.
Chemical adjustments were made immediately and continuously at the plant in an attempt to bring the numbers down.
City officials notified the Ohio EPA of those first readings, who then got involved in the testing process. The report shows that from the onset of the testing, chemists found inconsistencies in the data.
In an attempt to verify the results, the Toledo Department of Public Utilities began a three-day effort to enlist independent analysis – first within their sister water treatment plant in Oregon, and then with samples sent to Lake Superior State University, the Ohio EPA in Columbus and the US EPA in Cincinnati.
The report includes the raw data from all of the agencies that conducted testing. The Department of Public Utilities says this crisis was "a learning experience for all involved."
Inconsistencies exist in the data due to conflicting parameters for sampling and analyzing the microcystin levels. This resulted in the establishment of a set of protocols for procuring consistent sampling that will be used as a model statewide.
"We changed our testing, and that's something that the City of Toledo, along with Ohio EPA and the US EPA worked very hard on," said Toledo Public Utilities Director Edward Moore. "We felt this was a great progress."
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins says that although many residents were demanding test results throughout the weekend, the city did not release that information until Monday because there was no consistency in the results due to the inconsistency in the tests. He says until they got to a point where they were getting consistent results, he wasn't going to make them public.
According to the report, the US EPA found toxin levels to be less than 0.32 ppb (parts per billion). The Ohio EPA conducted 70 tests on Saturday, and the highest result was 0.85 ppb. Collins says the City of Toledo, however, found results in two neighborhoods - east Toledo and Point Place - that were at least 1 ppb.
Officials say this is just the beginning, and they need to come up with a plan on how to prevent something like this from happening again.
"We are going to have to talk about that question on a very high level, and hopefully we can get the United States, the federal government involved, the state government involved," Moore said.
Mayor Collins says it will require getting to the root of the problem: the algae in Lake Erie. Algae is not a new issue, but rather an ongoing problem that has long had the potential to compromise the water supply. He says the issue is much bigger than just the Collins Water Park Treatment Plant or Toledo itself.
"We are going to have to have a realistic approach to this through the federal government and state partners," Collins said. "We must address the algae bloom problem. If you take the algae bloom out of the issue, you don't have an issue. Therefore, all the issues in a water treatment plant are not the sole solution to the problem when the body of water you get your drinking water from has been totally compromised, and it's all part of nature and irresponsible stewardship of the environment."
Local leaders believe farm runoff may be contributing to the algae problem. Farmers have not been forced to cut back on the amount of fertilizer they use, but they are aware of the issue.
"If we put on too much fertilizer and we lost it and it goes into the water, well, it's a loss for us, too," said farmer Keith Van Horn. "It's our job to preserve the ground. Preserved ground actually produces more."
The cost of chemical fertilizers has sky-rocketed, so many farms are starting to steer away from their use for that reason, as well.
Following the water crisis, the Ohio EPA and the City of Toledo say they will sample the water for microcystins daily, with analysis twice per week for the next month in an attempt to continue monitoring this situation.
August and September is often the peak time for algal blooms. The local treatment plants deal with algae in source water every year, it will just be a matter of vigilance and proactive treatment to keep the water safe.