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Here's How Toxic Tap Water Can Send You Scrambling for Something Safe to Drink — and Why It Might Become the New Normal

August 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Bill Walker, Emily Wathen, Independent Media Institute

Toledo was the first large U.S. city where toxic algae blooms made tap water unsafe to drink. But it may not be the last.

TOLEDO, Ohio — In the middle of a muggy summer night, Keith Jordan got an urgent text: Toledo's tap water wasn't safe to drink.

“I thought it was a joke,” said Jordan, who works with at-risk youth in Toledo’s inner city. He went back to sleep. When he got up a few hours later, he took a shower and had a cup of coffee, then turned on the news.

“They were saying don't drink the water, don't take a shower—the water is messed up,” Jordan said. “You couldn't even touch the water. It was something you could not believe was happening here in Toledo.”

That was August 2, 2014. For the next three days, half a million people in and around this industrial city at the western edge of Lake Erie scrambled to find safe water.

Many drove hours across state borders to stand in long lines at stores that hadn't sold out of bottled water. Some stores were charging $40 for a case of water that usually costs less than $5. Jordan, unaffected by his shower and coffee, helped set up distribution centers for free water, and helped deliver it to seniors and mothers with babies. The National Guard sent tanker trucks full of drinking water to the city.

The panic was set off by a toxin called microcystin, the byproduct of an enormous bloom of blue-green algae that had invaded Lake Erie. The bloom—technically not algae, but photosynthetic single-celled organisms called cyanobacteria—blanketed vast expanses of the lake with what looked like thick, sickly green split-pea soup. It was triggered by chemical pollution from farm fertilizers and industrial sources into the lake, which supplies the region's tap water.

Toledo was the first large U.S. city where toxic blooms made tap water unsafe for human consumption. But it may not be the last.

No government agency collects nationwide data on toxic blooms. But Environmental Working Group's research found news reports of almost 300 blooms in lakes, rivers and bays in 48 …read more


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