7/16/15
PUBLIC INTEREST CENTER, (614) 644-2160
MEDIA CONTACT: Heidi Griesmer
CITIZEN CONTACT: Mary McCarron

Ohio EPA Outlines Public Notification Guidelines for Algal Bloom-affected Drinking Waters

A new multi-tiered advisory system to notify the public if microcystin, and other compounds produced by blue-green algae, is detected in treated drinking water at local public water systems throughout the state has been developed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) as part of its annual review.

The new advisory system is part of a strategy that has been updated annually since it was first created in 2011. As it has in years past, it includes a number of changes that build on the State’s experience and knowledge of harmful algal blooms. This year’s strategy includes new health advisory levels from U.S. EPA.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. EPA established national health advisory levels for microcystin and cylindrospermopsin based on drinking water over a 10 day period. While exceeding these advisory levels may not trigger an immediate do not drink advisory, potential health effects can occur from longer exposure to higher levels of these compounds in drinking water. In response, Ohio EPA and partnering agencies have established public notification protocols based on U.S. EPA’s proposed guidelines as part of a Public Water System Harmful Algal Bloom Response Strategy. New Ohio communication protocols include initial alerts when microcystin is first detected, consumption and use advisories for public water systems to follow, which are outlined below:

  • Microcystin detected in treated water – Use or consumption of water is not restricted. An advisory is not in effect. The public water system is adjusting its treatment efforts to bring microcystin levels down. Additional sampling and testing are ongoing as Ohio EPA and the public water system work together to keep the public informed as the situation is resolved.
  • Microcystin detected in treated drinking water at higher than 0.3 micrograms/liter (µg/l) over a period of time – the following individuals should not drink the water: bottle-fed infants and children younger than school age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, those with pre-existing liver conditions and those receiving dialysis treatment. These individuals may be more susceptible than the general population to the health effects of microcystins. For these individuals, alternative water should be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth, and preparing food. As a precautionary measure, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals may want to consider using an alternate water source for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth and preparing food. The public water system, Ohio EPA, local and state public health and emergency response agencies are working together to respond and the public water system is working to reduce microcystin levels and will keep the public informed as the situation is resolved.
  • Microcystin detected in treated drinking water at higher than 1.6 µg/l over a period of time. – do not drink the water. For all age groups, alternative water should be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth, and preparing food. The public water system, Ohio EPA, local and state public health and emergency response agencies are working together to respond and the public water system is working to reduce microcystin levels and will keep the public informed as the situation is resolved.

In the event that any of these advisories are issued, additional instructions will be provided concerning water use, information on actions being taken to resolve the situation and notification when the advisory is lifted. All use advisories due to harmful algal blooms are available at ohioalgaeinfo.com.

Already this year, Ohio has made historic reforms to protect Lake Erie water quality, including:

  • Requiring that all dredge material be diverted from open-lake disposal by 2020.
  • Prohibiting manure or fertilizer from being applied to frozen, snow-covered or rain soaked ground in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
  • Modifying new and existing wastewater discharge permits for major public wastewater treatment plants to expand monitoring and continue to limit phosphorus discharges in state waters. 
  • Requiring anyone applying livestock manure from the largest farms to obtain a certificate or an agricultural fertilizer applicator certificate to ensure that it is being done properly.
  • Signing a new collaborative agreement with Michigan and Ontario to achieve a 40 percent reduction in the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie’s western basin by 2025.
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    The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1972 to consolidate efforts to protect and improve air quality, water quality and waste management in Ohio. Since then, air pollutants dropped by as much as 90 percent; large rivers meeting standards improved from 21 percent to 89 percent; and hundreds of polluting, open dumps were replaced with engineered landfills and an increased emphasis on waste reduction and recycling.


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