Oregon will conduct real time tests of its drinking water to monitor results of samples taken by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency last month that showed low levels of a toxin that can cause damage to the liver and nervous system.
“We take this very seriously,” said Oregon Administrator Mike Beazley. “We think our practices appropriately deal with it, and our water has been, and continues to be, safe.”
The Ohio EPA last month 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 is present. Laboratory analysis last week found very low levels of microcystin, a common algal toxin that can affect the liver, in the finished (treated) water in Oregon, and Carroll Township in Ottawa County.
Microcystin was present in finished water at 0.23 parts per billion (ppb) in Oregon, and 0.16 ppb in Carroll Township. Both are well below the 1.0 ppb drinking water guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dina Pierce, northwest district media coordinator for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said that the first round of sampling showed no toxins in the treated water from the taps of all 11 water systems.
But the second sample found the trace levels of microcystin in treated water from Oregon and Carroll Township, she said.
Ohio EPA and ODH have not placed consumption advisories on drinking water in Oregon and Carroll Township. Conventional surface water treatment process removes most algal toxins. Water can be used for drinking, bathing, cooking and all other uses.
Of the 11 systems sampled the week of Aug. 23, eight had low levels of microcystin present in the raw water. There were 3.1 ppb of microcystin in the raw water at Oregon and 1.3 ppb in the raw water at Carroll Township. Raw water is the water drawn from the source before it has been treated, compared to finished, a term used for water that has been through the full treatment process.
Another sampling of Oregon’s drinking water this week by the Ohio EPA showed no trace levels of microcystin, Beazley said last Wednesday. Still, the city will be developing its own local testing capacity to test for algae toxins in the drinking water to get quicker results.
“As it is now, the Ohio EPA takes the sample, and we get results four or five days later. It isn’t a sufficient time for us to adjust our treatment depending on what we find. So we are taking steps to make sure we can test our water locally in real time so we can stay on top of it.”
Oregon Public Service Director Paul Roman said algal toxins in the drinking water are unregulated by the Ohio EPA.
“EPA is studying it, trying to decide whether they want to regulate that some day. But right now, it’s unregulated. It’s that new,” said Roman.
The city would purchase the testing equipment and be trained to conduct the tests, said Roman.
“It’s something where we could perform the tests and have the results in about five hours,” he said. “This is new to us. To be proactive, we think it’s worth buying equipment and getting the proper training for it, and doing the tests ourselves. We may even find ourselves doing that for other communities in this area just to give them a quicker response time as well.”
“We don’t know of any other communities across the lake that have local capacity now,” said Beazley. “There might be others, but we’re not aware of any now.”
Besides Oregon and Carroll Township, the public drinking water systems that were sampled by the Ohio EPA included Toledo, Ottawa County Regional Water, Marblehead, Kelleys Island, Camp Patmos (Kelleys Island), Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie Utilities (Middle Bass Island), Sandusky and Huron.
Pierce said that the Ohio EPA expects to continue sampling the drinking water through September, but the timeline may be adjusted depending on conditions in the lake specific to the blue green algal bloom.