Algae bloom, a rapid proliferation of algae in fresh water, is becoming a significant issue in Lake Erie due to agricultural runoff, climate change and agricultural waste. This has been causing problems since the 1960s, but the situation has intensified over the years. The bloom creates a dangerous species of algae that is toxic to human health and can cause skin and eye irritation, gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and life-threatening liver damage or neurological disorders. To combat the crisis, the US and Canadian governments have made efforts to improvise water supply, establish local and regional policies, and urge industries to adopt sustainable and environmentally sound practices.
Algae blooms in Lake Erie pose health risk for residents
Lake Erie, one of the renowned great lakes is facing a grave crisis due to the ongoing algae bloom. Known as the harmful algae bloom (HAB), it has been causing problems since the 1960s but the situation has intensified over the years. In the summer of 2014, Toledo, Ohio, saw firsthand the effects of HAB, shutting down their water supply because of its harmful effects on the surrounding community. Here is everything you need to know about the perilous algae bloom in Lake Erie that poses a health risk for residents.
What is an Algae Bloom?
Algae bloom is a rapid proliferation of algae in freshwater, leading to the formation of a visible green, blue-green, or brownish layer in water bodies such as a lake. The proliferation generally occurs due to the lack of nutrients, increase in water temperature, and exposure to sunlight.
What causes Algae Bloom in Lake Erie?
The algae bloom in Lake Erie has been attributed primarily to agricultural runoff, climate change, and agricultural waste. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes making it the warmest, hence more susceptible to temperature changes.
Agricultural fertilizers, herbicides, manure runoff, and other chemical compounds have contributed to the high levels of nutrients- nitrogen and phosphorus- in the lake. These nutrients act as food for the algae, leading to an overgrowth of dangerous species such as microcystis, which is toxic to human health.
Effects of Algae Bloom on Human Health
HAB’s toxic varieties can cause skin and eye irritation and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The acute onset of illness can be severe and life-threatening, especially for vulnerable populations like pregnant women, older adults, and young children. Further exposure to hazardous levels of toxins can lead to liver damage or neurological disorders.
What measures have been taken so far to combat the situation?
US and Canadian governments have made comprehensive efforts to fight against the recurring illness. Governments are investing in wastewater treatment plants, creating regulations for farmers with a focus on reducing the amount of fertilizer being used on corn and soybean crops, and supporting the sustainable agriculture practices.
A failure in individual responsibility and industries policy observance, stringent regulation and enforcement, a lack of awareness about the risks and damages that can come from HABs are some of the reasons why the battle is an uphill one.
The algae bloom crisis in Lake Erie poses a severe threat to human and animal health. Governments must intensify their efforts to improvise water supply, establish local and regional policies, and urge industries to adopt sustainable and ecofriendly practices to reduce the amount of nutrient-rich effluents being released into the water systems.
Q) How can one identify if the water has HAB?
A) A green, mustard color in the water and an unpleasant smell are observed when there is an Algae Bloom in the water.
Q) Is it safe to consume drinking water from Lake Erie during an Algae Bloom crisis?
A) It is not safe to consume drinking water from Lake Erie during an Algae Bloom situation.
Q) What can be done on an individual level to control Algae bloom?
A) Reducing fertilizer and chemical usage while buying sustainable agricultural produce, disposing of hazardous chemicals through safe methods, and reducing the consumption of single-use plastic can reduce the risk of Algae Bloom.
Q) Is there a permanent solution to this problem?
A) The problem cannot be permanently solved; however, sustainable measures and awareness can help reduce the impact.