Jeff Rhoades of West Toledo loads bottled water into his car at the Kroger store on Monroe Street and Secor Road. Fears that Toledo drinking water is again unsafe were spreading Thursday leading many to stock up.
Instead of issuing the “do-not-drink-the-water” advisory that some jittery Toledoans expected Thursday, the city of Toledo issued a do-not-panic request.
“The city of Toledo has received calls regarding rumors of a ‘Do Not Drink’ water advisory for today. There is no such advisory, and the water remains safe to drink,” said Kelly Hancock, a public relations representative with Hart Associates hired by the city to respond to the sudden upsurge in public concern about water quality.
The city issued its statement just before Brandon Noe loaded up on water at the Kroger store on Monroe Street and Secor Road on Thursday afternoon. He bought four cases of 24 packs of water because the store was sold out of gallon jugs.
“I got a text from a friend saying that a neighbor friend of her aunt or something works for the water commission and that possibly they are going to be calling for another water emergency and then I’ve been seeing random things on Facebook. People have been talking about it all day too, so maybe it’s a rumor, maybe it’s not,” Mr. Noe said.
Many local supermarkets reported the same run on bottled water.
“We’ve been selling more water in the last hour than we have in the last week,” a customer service representative at Food Town Supermarket on West Central Avenue said at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Adam Geer, manager of the Food Town, said the store was selling three 24-bottle cases of water for $9.99, so many customers were leaving the store with six or nine cases.
By late afternoon, Mr. Geer had posted signs in the store limiting customers to three cases of water each.
Vendors were telling him that other stores were ordering extra pallets of water, but he was holding off because he didn't want to get stuck with too much water.
Residents also have been purchasing water filtration systems. At The Andersons on Talmadge Road, which sells the Omni brand system, store manager Mark Hetrick said there was an uptick in purchases after the water crisis hit on Aug. 2.
Cases of water are limited to three per family at Food Town in West Toledo. There seemed to be a run on bottled water at some area stores on Thursday as rumbles of another city drinking water crisis swirled on social media and elsewhere.
But he said bottled water was the primary choice for the rash of customers Thursday.
Kroger Co. spokesman Jackie Siekmann said the grocery retailer also was seeing sales of bottled water rise over the last 48 hours at its Toledo-area stores.
“I got a call from my district manager up there wanting to know if I had heard anything [about Toledo’s water situation] through my contacts,” she said.
“We’ve seen more water going out the door the past couple of days.”
Jeff Rhoades purchased five cases for his family of six at Kroger. “We’re paranoid,” Mr. Rhoades said. He said he had heard from a friend, who has a brother, who knows a lot of people, that officials are going to announce in the morning another “don’t drink” advisory.
Speculation has swirled over the last few days of a pending water advisory like the one that went out early in the morning of Aug. 2. With no warning, some 500,000 Toledo water users were advised that the algae-caused microcystin toxin was at an unsafe level and people should not consume the water. Supermarkets were quickly emptied of bottled water, and businesses and government agencies trucked in water until the advisory was lifted on Aug. 4.
At the Toledo Costco store, manager Matt Keersemaker said the retailer has been seeing a bubble of water sales over the last few days.
“We are trying to be prepared, and we’re doing everything to keep water stocked,” he said.
According to the city’s statement, the most recent test indicated a microcystin level of 0.36 parts per billion in treated water at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant on Wednesday. Last Friday, the microcystin level reached 0.972 ppb, and then dropped to below 0.5 ppb the next day after a treatment regimen.
The World Health Organization advises against drinking water when microcystin reaches a level of 1.0 ppb. The city is required to report to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency any result more than 0.5 ppb.
To emphasize the size of 1.0 ppb, the water department said it’s like a blade of grass in a football field, or one second over the course of 32 years.
“We will continue to closely monitor the water quality and alert the public if the situation changes. Again, the water is safe to consume,” Ms. Hancock said.
Hart Associates, a marketing and public relations firm in Maumee, already was a subcontractor on water treatment plant projects for the city and was the contractor handling public relations for the Toledo Waterways Initiative, the $521 million program to upgrade the wastewater treatment system, said Robert Reinbolt, chief of staff to Mayor D. Michael Collins.
He said Hart’s contract will be modified to have them handle public relations for the water treatment plant.
Andy McClure, superintendent of the water treatment plant, said officials base judgment on whether to beef up treatment for algae on the readings from a new buoy that has been deployed in the lake about 800 feet from the water intake.
“The buoy has some things that we know indicate an algae bloom, so we track those and we adjust the treatment appropriately,” Mr. McClure said Thursday. “All indications from the buoy are we’re not in an intense bloom right now.”
Data from the buoy are posted on a city Web site, toledo.oh.gov/services/ public-utilities/water-treatment, along with video recorded by the buoy as it bobs on the lake. The Web site also has a link to the daily toxin levels, referred to on the site as “algal toxins.”
Staff writers Jon Chavez and Marlene Harris-Taylor contributed to this report.