Toledo mayor lifts water ban in northwest Ohio

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Toledo mayor lifts water ban in northwest Ohio
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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By JOHN SEEWER

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A water ban that had hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio and Michigan scrambling for drinking water has been lifted, Toledo's mayor announced Monday.

Mayor D. Michael Collins called the drinking water safe and lifted the ban at a Monday morning news conference.

"Our water is safe," Collins said. "Families can return to normal life."

Ohio's fourth-largest city warned residents not to use city water early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, most likely from algae on Lake Erie. Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency.

At a 3 a.m. Monday news conference, Collins said he decided to keep the advisory in place, even though latest test results suggest the algae-induced toxin contaminating the lake had probably dissipated to safe levels. The mayor said two tests had come back "too close for comfort."

Later Monday, Collins said six new test results came back without traces of the toxin.

The mayor said carbon was added to the water at the point of intake and that chlorine was also added into the system to help clean the water.

"This isn't an exact science," he said.

City officials recommended that residents who had not used their water since the ban started flush out their systems by running water. They also cautioned everyone not to all do it at once, and told people not to water lawns or wash cars at the risk of overwhelming the system.

Kasich said the state would be conducting a full review of what happened, including taking a look into Toledo's water intake system. He said it's still not clear whether the algae bloom that was centered where Toledo draws water in the lake was entirely to blame.

"We just don't know," Kasich said.

The governor said the most important thing now is to focus on the operating side. He said the state would continue to determine how to reduce the algae problem.

"We were able to get through this; I know it was difficult," said Kasich, who pointed out that state, local and federal agencies worked throughout the weekend together to solve the problem.

With the warning, worried residents told not to drink, brush their teeth or wash dishes with the water descended on truckloads of bottled water delivered from across the state. The Ohio National Guard was using water purification systems to produce drinkable water.

Some hospitals canceled elective surgeries and were sending surgical equipment that needed sterilized to facilities outside the water emergency, said Bryan Biggie, disaster coordinator for ProMedica hospitals in Toledo.

In southeastern Michigan, authorities were operating water stations Sunday for the 30,000 customers affected by the toxic contamination.

Drinking the water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes. But no serious illnesses had been reported by late Sunday. Health officials advised children and those with weak immune systems to avoid showering or bathing in the water.

Amid the emergency, discussion began to center around how to stop the pollutants fouling the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people. The toxins that contaminated the region's drinking water supply didn't just suddenly appear.

Collins said that, going forward, scientists and political leaders need to come together and figure out how to address the algae problem in Lake Erie.

"It didn't get here overnight, and we're not getting out of this overnight," Collins said.

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.

In fact, the problems on the shallowest of the five Great Lakes brought on by farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a satellite image showing a small but concentrated algae bloom centered right where Toledo draws its water supply, said Jeff Reutter, head of the Ohio Sea Grant research lab.

The bloom was much smaller than in past years and isn't expected to peak until early September. But instead of being pushed out to the middle of the lake, winds and waves drove the algae toward the shore, he said.

The amount of phosphorus going into the lake has risen every year since the mid-1990s.

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.

Researchers largely blame the algae's resurgence on manure and chemical fertilizer from farms that wash into the lake along with sewage treatment plants. Leaky septic tanks and stormwater drains have contributed, too. Combined, they flush huge amounts of phosphorus into the lake.

Environmental groups and water researchers have been calling on Ohio and other states in the Great Lakes region to drastically reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lake. Ohio lawmakers this past spring took a step toward tackling the algae problem when they enacted a law requiring most farmers to undergo training before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields. But they have stopped short of mandating restrictions on farmers.

The International Joint Commission, an advisory agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials, said last year urgent steps are needed to reduce phosphorus applied to fields, suggesting among other things that states ban the spread of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground.

That report came after a state task force in Ohio called for a 40 percent reduction in all forms of phosphorus going into the lake.

Agriculture industry groups have been asking farmers for more than a year to reduce phosphorus runoff before government regulators step in and impose their own restrictions.

"We're clearly showing progress," Reutter said. "You have to decide for yourself whether you think it's fast enough."

In Michigan, Detroit's 4 million-user water system gets its water from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. In the face of the Toledo water crisis, Detroit officials plan to review their contamination procedures Monday, water department Deputy Director Darryl Latimer told The Detroit News. He said it was unlikely Detroit would face a problem like Toledo's.

"The system is tested every two weeks for blue-green algae," Latimer said. "We haven't seen the precursors for this type of toxin."

Toledo Water Ban Lifted After Mayor Declares It 'Safe'

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