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Harmful Algal Blooms – What’s in your drinking water intake?


From editor:

Due to increased pollution and climate change, harmful algal blooms are increasing in frequency.  Read on to find out why they are harmful and how you can detect them so you can protect your drinking water system.

In August 2014, the city of Toledo, Ohio informed its residents (~500,000 people) that they should not use tap water for any purposes including bathing and cooking. The culprit: microcystin, a toxin produced by blue-green algae, had been detected in the city’s finished drinking water at concentrations 2.5 times the World Health Organization’s guideline value. Microcystin are hepatotoxins which can cause acute liver failure as well as several other symptoms including nausea and vomiting. In Toledo, the do-not-use advisory was lifted two days later after corrective action was taken at the water treatment plant. Toledo’s water source, Lake Erie, has experienced an increased frequency of harmful and nuisance algal blooms over the last decade. The root cause of freshwater algal blooms is excess phosphorus loading from point (ie. wastewater treatment facilities) and non-point (ie. agricultural runoff) sources, which recently has been exacerbated by climate change.

There are a variety of tools that can be used to protect drinking water systems against harmful algal blooms. Satellite and aerial imagery can be used to identify and map harmful algal blooms to determine their risk to source water intakes. Water quality monitoring in both source water and treatment processes can be used to identify: algal blooms (ie. chlorophyll, ATP, DNA sequencing), algae derived toxins (ie. microcystin) and conditions which could lead to algal blooms (ie. increased phosphorus loading, warmer temperatures). Source water modelling is also an important means to forecast and determine the likelihood of an algal bloom. In Lake Erie, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory uses various data sources to produce a 5-day forecast warning of potentially harmful algal blooms. All this information allows drinking water systems to be proactive rather than reactive in their approach to handling harmful algal blooms.

Are you concerned about harmful algal blooms in your drinking water source or recreational water? LuminUltra’s 2nd Generation ATP is an effective monitoring tool that can provide rapid identification of an emerging biological proliferation. With the frequency and intensity of this problem expected to increase, ensure that your drinking water system is protected.


Jordan Schmidt

Jordan has a PhD in Civil Engineering specializing in biological wastewater treatment. During his PhD, Jordan contributed to full-scale field evaluations of municipal waste stabilization ponds in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. He has a diverse background of expertise including data science, experimental design, statistical programming and full-scale municipal wastewater treatment. When he’s not working, Jordan enjoys sea kayaking, backcountry camping in Kejimkujik National Park and rock climbing.

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