Algae Blooms In Lakes & Oceans Creating Pollution That Harms People, Pets, & The Planet

Four years ago, harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie contaminated Toledo’s drinking-water supply, threatening the health of more than 500,000 residents and draining $2.5 million from the area’s economy. Public concern about the dangers of toxic drinking water to humans and wildlife soared.

That two-day event was tangible proof of the ongoing degradation of water quality in certain freshwater sources in Ohio and indeed, around the world. China, Europe and Africa all have been hit with the same cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms or cHABs. In the U.S., annual costs from cHABs are estimated at $2 billion.

Residents in the western Ohio community of Grand Lake St. Mary’s have struggled with algal blooms for more than a decade. More recently, an algal bloom in 2017 turned the Maumee River a deep green. Earlier this year, Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio EPA designated the western basin of Lake Erie an impaired waterway.

Ohio has been an epicenter for cHABs research, with Bowling Green State University scientists traveling the world and collaborating with other researchers.

Their work has been invaluable as we seek to understand what causes cyanobacteria, usually harmless aquatic organisms, to multiply and turn toxic. As a public university focused on contributing to the public good, BGSU is proud to be dedicating significant resources and leadership to this effort.

After the Toledo crisis, BGSU sponsored an international workshop that brought together more than 100 scientists from five countries to share ideas and analyze data on these outbreaks. Policymakers used the information to pass new legislation at the state and national levels to help protect the water supply. In 2015, BGSU led a team of researchers that deployed sensors on a buoy in Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay to gather data and upload it to team cellphones in real time.

In September, BGSU was awarded a $5.2 million, five-year federal grant to create the Lake Erie Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health and accelerate the work. The center is a collaboration of nine universities and research institutions, with the goal of creating a capacity to predict and prevent these outbreaks.

Our continued progress on this critical health issue demonstrates the powerful role Ohio’s public universities play in informing discourse and action on real-world challenges.

We are excited and energized by the opportunity to work with so many others committed to the same. The center brings together prominent researchers in biology and environmental sciences, led by George Bullerjahn, a BGSU professor of research excellence in biology and a passionate advocate for the Lake Erie ecosystem. Partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ohio Sea Grant, Ohio State University, SUNY – College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of North Carolina, the University of Tennessee and the University of Toledo.

Our grant is part of $30 million in funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Science Foundation to investigate the effects of harmful algal blooms. We will be eagerly watching the progress of our higher-education counterparts around the country who are studying impacts on oceans and estuaries.

Our research will have global significance. Large-scale cHABs are becoming increasingly frequent. Our research teams have visited sites and developed connections with organizations in China, Europe and Africa in our joint quest to understand the issue and find potential solutions.

We envision creating a near-real-time database on cHABs for the benefit of lake resource managers, boating captains, water-sports enthusiasts and others. A more informed and engaged public can make better choices about using water resources and safeguarding their own health.

The center also will provide a valuable training ground for graduate and undergraduate students who are our next generation of scientists and leaders. BGSU strives to equip them with meaningful educational experiences and instill in them a desire to contribute in real and significant ways to the world around them. In short, we want our students to “do well” and “do good.”

We are working toward a solution that preserves our freshwater resources and positively affects quality of life here and around the world.

Rodney Rogers, Ph.D., is president of Bowling Green State University.

 

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Algae Blooms In Lakes & Oceans Creating Pollution That Harms People, Pets, & The Planet

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