In the aftermath of the recent shutdown of a water plant in western Ottawa County due to the detection of high levels of microcystin, a toxin connected to harmful blue green algae in Lake Erie, Oregon Mayor Mike Seferian wants it known that Oregon’s drinking water is sparkling clean.
Councilman James Seaman asked city officials at a meeting earlier this month about testing procedures at the city’s water plant in light of toxic levels of mycrocystin found near the intake of Carroll Township’s water plant. The growing algae in Lake Erie, which is partially connected to runoff of phosphorus fertilizer from farms, has long been a concern to environmentalists in Oregon.
“It closed down a water plant,” Seaman said of the high level of microcystin found in Carroll Township. “It was excessive. I know they came to us to have the testing done because we have the equipment to do it for the blue green algae. I’m sure ours is well within range.”
Microcystin, which can damage the liver, was found at levels of 3.56 parts per billion in samples taken from the township plant, which is 3.5 times higher than the level for drinking water set by the World Health Organization.
Seferian said there has been no detection of toxic levels of microcystin in Oregon’s water plant.
“We are well within the range. We’re at zero. It can’t get any better than that,” said Seferian. “We are taking in larger quantities of algae on our intake, but we have taken steps to be prepared if a situation like that occurs. So for us, it’s a bigger deal only because we have to use more treatment. And we have that equipment, so we’re testing at our intake all the time so we’re prepared for situations like that. Carroll Township wasn’t as prepared as we were, therefore, they fell into that situation. We believe that is a situation we will not fall into because we have taken steps to prevent that. We can prove that’s the case because when we were taking in 20 parts per billion, we are putting out zero parts per billion, which if course is well within the range.”
“That’s very encouraging,” said Seaman. “A few people have asked me about that.”
In 2010, the Ohio EPA had conducted three rounds of sampling at 11 public drinking water systems whose source water is drawn from Lake Erie’s western basin, where a large blue-green algae bloom was present. Laboratory analysis had found very low levels of microcystin in the finished (treated) water in Oregon and Carroll Township. Microcystin was present in finished water at 0.23 parts per billion in Oregon, and 0.16 parts per billion in Carroll Township. Both were well below the 1.0 drinking water guidelines established by the World Health Organization.
The first round of sampling in 2010 had shown no toxins in the treated water from the taps of all 11 water systems. But the second sample had found trace levels of microcystin in treated water from Oregon and the township.
The city eventually acquired its own testing equipment to detect algae toxins in the water to get quicker results. It took five days for the city to get results from samples taken by the Ohio EPA. Today, the city gets results the same day samples are taken by its own staff.
“We’ve invested in training and certification for staff and leadership in the plant,” said Administrator Mike Beazley. “Obviously, we would rather not have the problem but we can’t control that. What we can control is being prepared for it. We feel good with that investment. We like when tests come back undetectable, which is what our tests have been. We can’t always guarantee that. We can guarantee we are as prepared as any community for dealing with what’s out there.”
Public Service Director Paul Roman said the city typically conducts tests on a weekly basis.
“Then if there is an alert, it may shift. Right now, it’s every other day that the EPA is asking us to test,” said Roman. Doug Wagner became certified by the EPA to conduct the tests for Oregon as well as other communities, he added.
“Carroll Township happened to be one of the communities that Doug tested for. That is the beauty of having our own equipment and being certified. We can adjust our treatment right then and there,” said Roman.
The addition of activated carbon and alum are used to treat contaminated water, said Roman.
“We would increase them, actually, to take care of it,” he said. “And we’ve had non-detects in our testing.”
Roman said that Wagner recently told him that algae levels are the worst he’s ever seen in the lake.
“It’s at a record this year. Originally, they thought it would be high. When you have winter and spring rain events – that surface runoff went straight to the ditches when the ground was still frozen. Those were the early signs of possibly high algae. When July came, you didn’t see it as much. And you didn’t know how this year would really turn out. But now, you’re seeing high levels of algae. It’s out there. But we are treating it properly and doing everything in our power to do it right,” said Roman.