Toxin found in Toledo, Ohio, water system; governor declares emergency
Water at a Toledo, Ohio, treatment plant has tested positive for microcystin, a toxin known to cause liver and kidney damage, leaving thousands of Ohio residents without water and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency Saturday.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency for the 600,000 residents of Lucas and Wood counties after two water samples tested positive for microcystin, a toxin possibly caused by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.
According to an alert issued by the city of Toledo, chemists were conducting tests at the city’s Collins Water Treatment Plant when the samples tested positive for microcystin.
The alert advised residents not to drink water or even boil it.
While water service has not been shut off in the city, Abbruzzese warned residents to use the water only to shower or wash their faces. He advised residents not have their children bathe, as they may accidentally ingest the water.
He could not say when the water would again be safe to drink.
Microcystin is one of several toxins that can be produced by an algae bloom. In the alert, Toledo officials said Lake Erie, which is a water source for Toledo and the larger Lucas County area, may have experienced such a bloom recently.
Symptoms of microcystin ingestion can include diarrhea, nausea, dizziness and abnormal liver function, according to the alert.
In severe cases, seizures and respiratory arrest may occur, according to a 2012 report from the Environmental Protection Agency, but fatalities are rare.
Algae blooms occur when bodies of water receive excess phosphorous and nitrogen, which can be produced by fertilizer runoff or broken septic systems, Toledo officials said. While the toxins are harmful to humans, they are more likely to kill animals, according to the EPA report.
In 1996, more than 50 people died after they were exposed to microcystin at a dialysis center in Brazil, but the report did not detail any fatalities in the U.S.
According to the Associated Press, Saturday’s incident marks the first time a large city has been forced to issue a "do not drink" order after algae-related toxins were found in Lake Erie. A similar incident affected 2,000 residents of a small town east of Toledo in 2013.
Abbruzzese said the Ohio Department of Transportation and National Guard were working to deliver water to the area. The state department of corrections also has access to a milk processing plant in Columbus, about two hours south of Toledo, and the agency was using it to bottle water for city residents.
With a population of more than 280,000, Toledo is Ohio’s fourth largest city.