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Officials say most of Michigan's drinking water safe from toxin that hit Toledo

Jeff Reutter
Ohio State University
A bloom of cyanobacteria on Honey Creek in Ohio. It looks a lot like algae, but it's really a bacteria.

Michigan environmental officials say most of the state’s drinking water is safe from the sort of contamination that forced the city of Toledo to issue a don’t-drink emergency order.

Tests determined water from Lake Erie was contaminated with microsystin toxin produced by a type of cyanobacteria. The bacteria looks a lot like pea-green algae growing in the water.

At high-enough levels, the toxin can cause health issues such as nervous system or liver damage.

Steve Busch is a state water specialist. He says about 34,000 people in southeast Michigan lost access to safe drinking water because they get it through the Toledo system, but he says many more could be effected by a more widespread crisis.

“We have about 100,000 people that are relying on drinking water from Lake Erie as a source itself.”

Busch says other Great Lakes are deeper and cleaner, and not as susceptible to problems created by the bacteria.

The director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, Dan Wyant, says there are lots of programs in place to control discharges and runoffs that create an environment where cyanobacteria can grow.

“But more needs to be done and Michigan is committed to being part of the solution.”

Wyant says Michigan is consulting with the EPA and environmental agencies in neighboring states. He says there’s still no consensus on what constitutes harmful levels of the toxin.

“We know there are different standards across the country and we feel there needs to be one national health advisory and all states should follow that advisory.”

Wyant says Michigan currently uses the World Health Organization standard of one part per billion as being too much.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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