Don't drink the water, says 4th-largest Ohio city

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Water Toxins Spur State Of Emergency In Toledo, Ohio

By JOHN SEEWER

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Toxins possibly from algae on Lake Erie fouled the water supply of the state's fourth-largest city Saturday, forcing officials to issue warnings not to drink the water and the governor to declare a state of emergency as worried residents descended on stores, quickly clearing shelves of bottled water.

"It looked like Black Friday," said Aundrea Simmons, who stood in a line of about 50 people at a pharmacy before buying four cases of water. "I have children and elderly parents. They take their medication with water."

The city advised about 400,000 residents in Toledo, most of its suburbs and a few areas in southeastern Michigan not to brush their teeth with or boil the water because that would only increase the toxin's concentration. The mayor also warned that children should not shower or bathe in the water and that it shouldn't be given to pets.

Toledo issued the warning just after midnight after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption.

Gov. John Kasich said it was too early to say how long the advisory will last or what caused toxins to spike suddenly in the drinking water.

"We don't really want to speculate on this," he told The Associated Press. "When it comes to this water, we've got be very careful."

Don't drink the water, says 4th-largest Ohio city
Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, gestures as he talks about algae near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
This satellite image provided by NOAA shows the algae bloom on Lake Erie in 2011 which according to NOAA was the worst in decades. The algae growth is fed by phosphorus mainly from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants, leaving behind toxins that have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can't survive. The toxins can kill animals and sicken humans. Ohio's fourth-largest city, Toledo, told residents late Saturday Aug. 2, 2014 not to drink from its water supply that was fouled by toxins possibly from algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/NOAA)
A sample glass of Lake Erie water is photographed near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Volunteers coordinate a fresh drinking water distribution point, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
A member of the Ohio Air National Guard carries a bag of water to a nearby car, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Residents gather fresh drinking water provided by the Ohio Air National Guard, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Ohio Air National Guard Senior Airman Nick Wander fills a 400 gallon military water buffalo with fresh drinking water, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Birds fly near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Grant Buehrer, a student at Ohio State University, volunteers to load a five-pound bag of fresh drinking water into a vehicle, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Maumee, Ohio. The toxins that contaminated the drinking water supply of 400,000 people in northwest Ohio didn't just suddenly appear. Water plant operators along western Lake Erie have long been worried about this very scenario as a growing number of algae blooms have turned the water into a pea soup color in recent summers, leaving behind toxins that can sicken people and kill pets. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Ohio Air National Guard Senior Airman Nick Wander fills a 400 gallon military water buffalo with fresh drinking water, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Ohio Army National Guard Spc. Luis Cardenas directs military vehicles carrying fresh drinking water, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Jeremy Myers fills two plastic tubs with well water in the back of Angela Jones' car in Toledo, Ohio on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2014. Residents in the state's fourth-largest city were warned not to drink their tap water after it was fouled by toxins, possibly from algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo John Seewer)
Sharon Green loads bottled water into her car she bought after Toledo warned residents not to use its water, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 in Toledo, Ohio. About 400,000 people in and around Ohio's fourth-largest city were warned not to drink or use its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly from algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo John Seewer)
Aundrea Simmons stands next to her minivan with cases of bottled water she bought after Toledo warned residents not to use its water, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 in Toledo, Ohio. About 400,000 people in and around Ohio's fourth-largest city were warned not to drink or use its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly from algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo John Seewer)
Two you girls play at the edge of Lake Erie on Huntington Beach in Bay Village, Ohio Monday, May 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
The City of Toledo water intake crib is surrounded by algae, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Toledo police officers direct traffic near a water distribution point at Waite High School, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Megan Anllo, a volleyball coach at at Woodward High School, carries a bag of water to a nearby car, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Toledo, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
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The governor and his staff said state agencies were working to bring water and other supplies to areas around Toledo while also assisting hospitals and other affected businesses.

"What's more important than water? Water's about life," Kasich said. "We know it's difficult. We know it's frustrating."

Algae blooms during the summer have become more frequent and troublesome around the western end of Lake Erie, the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.

The algae growth is fed by phosphorous mainly from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants, leaving behind toxins that have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can't survive. The toxins can kill animals and sicken humans.

Scientists had predicted a significant bloom of the blue-green algae this year, but they didn't expect it to peak until early September.

Kasich's emergency order issued Saturday allowed the state to begin bringing water into the Toledo area. Large containers were being filled with water at a prison near Columbus and trucked about 130 miles north to Toledo, said Joe Andrews, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

The state also asked major grocery chains to divert as much water as they can to northwest Ohio, Andrews said.

As truckloads of water came in from across the state, Toledo leaders set up distribution centers at schools around the city, limiting families to one case of bottled water. Some stores were receiving new shipments of water and putting limits on how much people can buy. The Red Cross was helping distribute water to homebound residents.

"We're going to be prepared to make sure people are not without water," said Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins.

He said the city hopes to know Saturday night how long the warning will stay in place, and he pleaded with residents not to panic. There were no reports yet of people becoming sick from drinking the water, Collins said.

Samples of water were flown to the federal and state Environmental Protection Agency offices in Cincinnati and Columbus and a university in Michigan for additional testing, officials said.

State EPA Director Craig Butler said that the first tests indicating trouble with the water came Friday night and that additional testing confirmed the elevated readings. He said the water coming from the lake into Toledo's water plant had relatively low toxicity levels this summer until this sudden spike that sent residents scrambling for clean water.

Police officers were called to stores early Saturday morning as people lined up to buy bottled water, bags of ice and flavored water.

"People were hoarding it. It's ridiculous," said Monica Morales, who bought several cases of bottled water before the store sold out of water a half-hour after opening.

Stores in cities up to 50 miles away were reporting shortages of bottled water. Some neighboring communities that aren't connected to Toledo's water system were offering their water to people who brought their own bottles and containers.

Operators of water plants all along Lake Erie, which supplies drinking water for 11 million people, have been concerned over the last few years about toxins fouling their supplies.

Almost a year ago, one township just east of Toledo told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps. That was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.

Most water treatment plants along the western Lake Erie shoreline treat their water to combat the algae. Toledo spent about $4 million last year on chemicals to treat its water and combat the toxins.

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