Lake Erie Sees Year Of Environmental Challenges

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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

The toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie this summer was the most severe it’s been since the federal government began monitoring in 2002.  And there were other concerns that affected the lake this year. 

The good news is high winds in September weakened the 300 square mile toxic bloom and did not cause a water system shutdown like the one that threatened Toledo’s water supply last year.

This spring, the Environmental Protection Agency released new guidelines on determining how much microcystin should be considered toxic to humans.  For kids, that’s 0-point-3 parts per billion, and 1-point-6 parts per billion for adults.  

"But it’s also very important to keep in mind that we have to keep focusing on addressing the upstream sources of pollution that leads to the harmful algae blooms, in particular nutrients," Peter Grevatt, the EPA’s Director of the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water, told WCPN earlier this  year.

As part of that effort, Governor Kasich signed a bill in April restricting farmers from spreading fertilizer on frozen fields.  The law went into effect in July but by then, heavy June rains had carried large loads of nutrient runoff from farms into the lake. 

The storms also overwhelmed many older, antiquated sewer systems across the Lake Erie shoreline, prompting beach shutdowns.  To address the problem, Julius Ciaccia with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) says three new massive sewage overflow tunnels will go into service next year.

“All geared toward eliminating 4 billion gallons of overflow annually, that goes into Lake Erie,” he adds.

And then there was a sunken barge, believed to be the Argo….spotted this August in Lake Erie, trickling out an undetermined substance.  Following tests that found the material hazardous, the Coast Guard and Ohio EPA drained the barge of pollutants and said it no longer poses a safety or environmental threat.


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