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Published: 11/13/2010

State to reassess poisonous algae's impact on fish

Ordinarily, scientific gobbledygook from a lake with a long-winded name doesn't do much for me.

But Tuesday's announcement about an upcoming microcystis study in Grand Lake St. Marys was an eye-grabber, only because I know that's the most prevalent form of toxic blue-green algae in my area, western Lake Erie.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said fish from Grand Lake St. Marys will be analyzed in the coming months to see how much, if any, of the poison has been absorbed by their fish tissue.

Past studies suggest algae toxins don't penetrate fish like industrial chemicals.

But state regulators admittedly did a double-take when microcystin (the toxin in microcystis) spiked to a level of more than 2,000 parts per billion (ppb) on July 12 in Grand Lake St. Marys.

That's more than 100 times greater than the World Health Organization's threshold of 20 ppb for swimming, water skiing, and other recreational uses.

The same lake consistently had readings of 100 ppb or more throughout much of the summer, Dina Pierce, Ohio EPA spokesman, said.

“We no longer felt it was right telling people it was safe to eat the fish,” she said.

They had no hard evidence to the contrary. But the state trusted its instincts and took action.

The highest known level of microcystin in Lake Erie was 570 ppb on Aug. 18 at Maumee Bay State Park.

Samples from the $58,500 study will be analyzed at the State University of New York in Syracuse, the same lab that The Blade used when it retrieved Lake Erie water samples for a special report published Aug. 29.

Short-Sighted or Long Grudge?: FirstEnergy Corp. was reminded at Camp Perry on Nov. 4 that its Davis-Besse supporters aren't just utility executives and corporate shareholders. The United Way, the American Red Cross, an area soup kitchen, labor unions, and even one of the region's top birding organizations had people speak up on behalf of the nuclear plant at that meeting, called to discuss FirstEnergy's application to keep Davis-Besse operating for another 20 years after its original 40-year license expires in 2017.

Five days later, at the posh Inter-Continental Buckhead hotel in Atlanta, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko began a sobering speech by saying how unplanned shutdowns, or “scrams,” have gradually increased since 2005. “This is no time for overconfidence or complacency,” he said.

Mr. Jaczko — the NRC's highestranking official — called the nearrupture of Davis-Besse's old reactor head in 2002 “perhaps the most prominent example” of what happens when a plant's workplace atmosphere, i.e. its “safety culture,” is allowed to deteriorate.

Mr. Jaczko's comments were made at the Institute of Nuclear Operations' annual conference for nuclear chief executive officers. For the uninitiated, the institute is a trade group the industry established to police itself and internally share information following the half-core meltdown of Three Mile Island Unit 2 in 1979.

Unlike the industry's Capitol Hill lobbyists, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Operations doesn't talk to the media.

So what we have now, eight years after FirstEnergy put northern Ohio on the cusp of the nation's biggest nuclear accident since Three Mile Island, is an NRC chairman who 1) shows he has a long memory and 2) doesn't want to let his guard down. He is 3) imploring the industry's top nuclear executives to do the same as his agency 4) prepares to process FirstEnergy's application for a license extension at Davis-Besse.

At the same time, several groups and organizations that reap benefits from the plant, financial and otherwise, have joined Ottawa County politicians in support of it while scorning U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland), whose district lies downwind of the plant and who made his disgust with FirstEnergy known in a Nov. 4 letter to Mr. Jaczko.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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