The Washington Post

Mayor of Toledo, Ohio, lifts two-day ban on drinking tap water

The National Wildlife Federation’s Frank Szollosi looks at a glass filled with water from Lake Erie that he was sampling. The city of Toledo, Ohio, on Monday lifted a two-day ban on drinking tap water. (Ty Wright/For The Washington Post)

On Monday morning, two days after residents of Toledo, Ohio, were ordered to stop drinking tap water, the ban was lifted and the water declared safe to drink. Adding a dose of theatricality to the announcement that the water was drinkable once again, Mayor D. Michael Collins (D) stood in front of reporters, called the water safe and downed a glass himself.

The notice to stop using tap water, first issued by Toledo on Saturday, affected about half a million people. The city’s system produces 26 billion gallons of drinking water per year, water that is taken from Lake Erie to the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant for purification, according to last year’s annual report from the Toledo Department of Public Utilities.

It was at this treatment plant that chemists found samples showing higher levels of the toxin microcystin, which causes abdominal pain, vomiting and kidney damage. Toledo’s water notice Saturday said that the problem may have been caused by algae in Lake Erie, the source of the city’s drinking water. Once the water ban went into effect, city and state officials began sending tens of thousands of gallons of water to distribution centers around Toledo and surrounding areas.

Testing at Collins Park and across the system showed that by Monday morning, the microcystin levels in the water were acceptable once again, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced.

The algae bloom in Lake Erie strengthened since Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences said in a bulletin Monday. These blooms have been centered in the western portion of the lake, with the heaviest concentration seen in the part of the lake near Toledo.

The Lady K tow boat kicks up a wake full of green algae Monday on Lake Erie, a few hundred feet from the city of Toledo's water intake. (Ty Wright/For The Washington Post)

In the summer, these algal blooms are a regular occurrence along the western portion of Lake Erie, according to EPA reports. While the water ban in this case lasted for only two days, it speaks to another issue: More than 250 million people in the United States depend on fresh water from lakes and rivers for drinking water, the EPA said, resources that are susceptible to problems stemming from algae and pollution-related chemicals.

Earlier this year, residents in West Virginia endured a 10-day ban on using tap water after a chemical involved in coal processing leaked into the water supply. And less than a year ago, Carroll Township in Ohio — not far from Toledo — issued a tap water ban after higher levels of microcystin were found in the water.

“Over the past two days we’ve been reminded of the importance of our crown jewel — Lake Erie — to our everyday lives,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said in a statement Monday. “We must remain vigilant in our ongoing efforts to protect it.”

Mark Berman covers national news for The Washington Post and anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and stories from around the country.

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