NWI not likely to have toxic algae problem

2014-08-04T19:00:00Z 2014-08-05T09:13:04Z NWI not likely to have toxic algae problemStaff and wire reports nwitimes.com
August 04, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

With the threat from a toxic algae bloom that affected the tap water for about 400,000 residents of Michigan and Ohio apparently ended, a spokesman for Indiana American Water said the chances for a similar problem in Northwest Indiana were small.

The mayor of Toledo, Ohio lifted the advisory against using the water after dozens of tests over the weekend showed an algae-induced toxin contaminating Lake Erie had dropped to safe levels following intensive chemical treatments.

Drinking the tainted water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes. No serious illnesses had been reported, health officials said Monday.

"Families can return to normal life," Mayor D. Michael Collins said.

Indiana American Water, which serves much of Northwest Indiana, gets its water from Lake Michigan, but spokesman Joe Loughmiller said none of its systems has been affected by the problem and a similar outbreak of toxic algae here is highly unlikely.

"American Water consistently works to control algae blooms in the source waters for our surface water treatment plants," Loughmiller said in a prepared statement Monday. "This includes providing treatment or other innovative measures to control blooms in raw water reservoirs.

"In Northwest Indiana, our two treatment facilities have the ability to add powdered activated carbon, a finer crushed or ground type of carbon particles that, which, when added into the treatment process, further enhance the removal of certain types of chemicals and substances, such as those related to algae outbreaks."

Loughmiller said the powdered activated carbon is also used in the treatment process to lessen the taste and odor associated with the harmless type of algae that does occur in Lake Michigan. That algae is different from what the Toledo and its region experienced.

"Although we are currently sampling and monitoring for the types of toxic algae found in Lake Erie as an extra precautionary measure, we do not anticipate finding these types of compounds in our drinking water in Northwest Indiana. In general, the chances of a similar issue occurring here are highly unlikely because of the differences between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan."

Loughmiller said Lake Erie's shallower, smaller configuration is more susceptible to agricultural and fertilizer runoff that are a major factor in creating the toxic algae blooms. Algae blooms also are less of a concern in streams and rivers the company also draws water from in other areas because the blooms can't accumulate as easily in the flowing water.

"We conduct more than 30,000 water quality tests annually to ensure that our water meets the standards that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets to protect public health," he said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said the state will conduct a full review of what happened, including taking a look at Toledo's aging water system and figuring out how to reduce pollution that feeds algae in the western end of the lake.

It's still not clear, he told The Associated Press, whether the algae bloom centered where Toledo draws its water was entirely to blame or if changes also are needed with the water-supply system.

The weekend warning had led Kasich to declare a state of emergency in three counties, bringing in soldiers from the Ohio National Guard to deliver bottled water and operate purification systems to produce drinkable water.

Residents were told not to boil the water, brush their teeth with it or cook with it. They filled their cars with bottled water handed out by volunteers.

After the ban was lifted, city officials recommended residents who had not used their water since Saturday flush out their systems.

Tap water accounts for two-thirds of the drinking water consumed in homes across the U.S., according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture three years ago, while research from the Beverage Marketing Corporation shows that bottled water makes up half of all water consumed nationwide.

Times staff writer Phil Wieland and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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