On early Monday morning, Toledo, Ohio Mayor D. Michael Collins informed the city's 500,000 residents that their water is now safe to drink again after a two-day ban. After high levels of the toxin microcystin were detected in the city's water supplies, officials warned Toledo locals that consuming the water—or using it for washing dishes—could cause vomiting or diarrhea in addition to potentially causing long-term damage to their liver or kidneys. Though no serious illnesses had been reported, Toledans said that bottled water supplies had dipped around the city. The microcystin surge was likely caused by a blue-green algae bloom in Lake Erie. This isn’t the first time such algae blooms have affected water supplies; last year, 2,000 residents of a township east of Toledo were given a similar water restriction because of the presence of microcystin. In recent years, the levels of algae in Lake Erie have grown increasingly high due to farm and industrial chemicals that wash into the lake, according to researchers. The Associated Press reports: Amid the emergency, discussion began to center around how to stop the pollutants fouling the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people. "People are finally waking up to the fact that this is not acceptable," Collins said. The toxins that contaminated the region's drinking water supply 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. 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. Though pressure is being put on farmers to reduce their pollutants, government regulators may eventually step in to prevent the danger from another algae bloom in the future.
William A. Hudson is a summer 2014 In These Times intern.