Yuck !!! Toledo, Ohio recently found itself in the news on a national scale in early August, 2014.
A Division of Water Treatment plant located just outside of Toledo filters and processes an average of 80 million gallons of water on a daily basis to service the 500,000 individuals living in the area.
In the early hours of August 1, 2014, two samples of water that passed through the aforementioned treatment plant tested positive for a type of algae called microcystis. If ingested, it has the potential to be life threatening to extremely young and old members of society and could make everyone in between devastatingly sick.
As a result, the local city government snapped into effect and told all residents in the area not to drink city water, cook with it, or use it in any way. This meant that people were waking up early in the morning and suddenly learning that they couldn't prepare breakfast for their children, take a shower before work and perform other types of functions that are necessary on a daily basis. Even boiling the water, which is the standard protocol for filtering out certain types of substances, would not protect them against microcystis.
The situation affected the drinking water to nearly every resident of the area. The National Guard in the State of Ohio delivered free water to affected residents and the governor of the state declared a state of emergency.
The Toledo, Ohio water crisis came about as the result of a perfect storm of unfortunate incidents. Because of the mild summer, microcystis was able to grow on Lake Erie - which is where the drinking water in Toledo comes from. At the same time, a necessary component of the filtration plant temporarily failed, allowing the microcystis to pass unfiltered into the drinking water supply.
As a result, the city entered into a state of panic. Restaurants and businesses that depended on the water supply were closed and people had to drive as far as an hour or so into Michigan to not only find bottled water to purchase (as the city's own store shelves had already been emptied), but to find water that wasn't being price gouged by people looking to take advantage of the situation. Information was also scarce - as the water crisis began, there was no indication of whether it would last 24 hours, two weeks or indefinitely.
Though the ban was eventually lifted on August 4 and the situation returned to normal, it is still a wakeup call regarding just how important these types of processes are and what type of situation these types of failures can put people into.
Just because the water crisis in Toledo is now over, however, doesn't mean that all is well. The crisis pointed towards major vulnerabilities in Toledo's water filtration systems that will need to be addressed on an ongoing basis, especially since the type of algae bloom that caused the crisis in the first place can easily happen again at any time throughout the warm summer months of the year given the right weather conditions and an improper drainage of nutrients into the lake. People are not only worried about the types of failures that caused the problem in the first place, but whether or not they will happen again even after action has been taken.
Imagine pouring a nice, cold glass of water from the tap in your home and being forced to second guess whether or not you'll get sick (or worse) from what you're about to ingest. Those are the types of situations that the residents of Toledo will find themselves in moving forward.
The first step that the city will reportedly take involves limiting how much phosphorus and other nutrient runoffs enter Lake Erie from sources like farms in the area. Other sources of nutrient pollution like household sewage treatment systems and even sewers in urban environments will also be looked at. Though additional studies into both the water filtration methods that the city uses and environmental factors have been called for, residents in the area are looking for law makers to take action to help make sure that this type of crisis doesn't occur again.
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