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Toxin threat from algal bloom starting to dissipate

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    Shamrock-green waves lap against the Lake Erie shoreline in downtown Port Clinton.

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    Justin Chaffin, Ohio Sea Grant and OSU Stone Laboratory research director.

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    Jay Martin, OSU food, agricultural and biological engineering program professor and Ohio Sea Grant/OSU Stone Lab staffer.

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    Ohio State University's Franz Thoedore Stone Laboratory, part of Sea Grant, on Gibraltar Island.

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GIBRALTAR ISLAND, Ohio — Although this summer’s algal bloom will likely linger in western Lake Erie until at least mid-October, the odds of having algal toxins show up in your tap water now are dissipating with each passing day.

Justin Chaffin, Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University Stone Laboratory research coordinator, told 25 people attending an annual science writers’ workshop on Gibraltar Island that about 70 to 80 percent of each bloom season’s toxins appear in the open water during the month of August. Fewer than 10 percent typically are in the lake water in September.

“The algae in July and August are producing a lot of toxins, whereas in September and October they are producing a lot less,” he said.

In a follow-up interview, though, Mr. Chaffin told The Blade and Detroit Public Television that he hesitates to say — even with the first of September coming this Saturday — that the western Lake Erie region is out of danger just yet.

Anything could happen. But he said the region is starting to turn a corner on the 2018 algal threat, with statistics playing more in our favor.

WATCH: Justin Chaffin holds a presentation on lake algae

His comments were made during the first day of a two-day annual workshop being held at OSU’s Stone Laboratory across from Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

It is on a tiny, five-acre island steeped in history and once owned by Sandusky native Jay Cooke, who is perhaps best known as the financier who helped former President Abraham Lincoln finance the Civil War. A summer home that bears Mr. Cooke’s name, known as Cooke’s Castle, is on the opposite end of the island from the laboratory.

The workshop hit on cross-cutting issues, with eight speakers talking about anything from algae to agriculture, coastal wetlands restoration, fisheries, renewable energy, rain gardens, and other forms of green infrastructure.

One spoke about plans for a $150 million, six-turbine offshore wind farm northwest of Cleveland, due north of Lakewood, Ohio, that its developer hopes to build in 2021.

“We would be the first freshwater wind farm in North America,” said Beth Nagusky, LEEDCo sustainable development director.

Mr. Chaffin lauded contributions charter boat fish captains have made to algae research since 2012, the summer after what was then a record algal bloom. The 2011 bloom was surpassed by the 2015 bloom, which is now the largest on record.

He recalled how Paul Pacholski, Lake Erie Charter Boat Association president, asked how his group could help.

WATCH: Justin Chaffin on 2018 algae bloom in Lake Erie

The solution was to have charter boat fishing captains pull water samples with long tubes they put over the sides of their boats. The dozens of participating captains — along with many of them being out on the water more than 200 days a year — exponentially increased sampling data, Mr. Chaffin said.

“Without the data, they're going off what their eyes tell them,” he said. “The charter boat captains augment existing water quality monitoring programs.”

Funding for that program was covered by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency the first five years. This year, Friends of Stone Laboratory assumed responsibility for it.   

Also at the workshop:

● Jen Mou, a Kent State University associate biology professor, discussed a long-range project into potential health effects on the public water supply from microscopic concentrations of pharmaceuticals and personal care products, also known as PPCPs.

Those include active ingredients in cosmetics, soaps, mosquito repellent, and sanitizers that people excrete, flush down toilets, or have washed off their bodies from bathing or brushing their teeth. They can include trace amounts of anti-inflammatories and medicines used to treat depression, she said.

Most sewage-treatment plants are not equipped to remove such products, Ms. Mou said.

“PPCPs are global,” she said.

In a 2002 report, the U.S. Geological Survey studied 139 streams in 30 states and found 80 percent of them tested positive for PPCPs. Eight of the streams analyzed were in Ohio. 

“We know PPCPs are in our waters, but are not clear how much and what they do,” Ms. Mou said.

● Eric Weimer, fishery biologist supervisor of the Sandusky Fisheries Research Station operated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the battle continues to remove grass carp — one of four types of fish commonly referred to as Asian carp — from area waterways, especially the Maumee and Sandusky rivers.

Grass carp are not as large or destructive as the two highest-profile Asian carp, the bighead Asian carp and the silver Asian carp. Bigheads are the largest and silvers are the most viewed on social media, because of their propensity to leap out of water because of sensitivity to vibrations from boat motors.

The University of Toledo is working with the USGS on a project examining the spawning conditions of grass carp, Mr. Weimer said.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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