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Environment & Climate Change

EPA might change its guidelines for the toxin microcystin

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
Richard Hsu
/
Flickr
A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a health advisory for microcystin. That’s the toxin that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply in 2014.

It’s released by a kind of cyanobacteria that’s been forming on Lake Erie every year, and it can hurt your liver.

The EPA established guidelines for microcystin in drinking water in 2015. Now, the agency is proposing guidelines for skin contact; swimming at a beach, for example.

Sandy Bihn is with Lake Erie Waterkeeper.

“So it could mean that we’d have more advisories if they use that in Ohio or if they use it in Michigan, for people not to swim in the water when it’s present, that’s a major concern,” she says.

The EPA is proposing to set a guideline of four micrograms per liter. The guidelines will be voluntary.

Health officials in Ohio and Michigan already test for microcystin.

Shannon Briggs is a water toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She says local health officials in Bay and Monroe counties test for microcystin. And the DEQ tests certain inland lakes.

“Most of the water samples in Michigan from our inland lakes or Great Lakes are coming in below four micrograms per liter. Many of the results come in non-detect, meaning we could not detect the presence of microcystin,” she says.

Briggs says Michigan’s public health code gives local health officers authority to decide what to test for at beaches, and DEQ plays an advisory role.

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