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Published: Saturday, 9/21/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

Ohio water regulator hails Carroll Twp. leader

Plant superintendent credited in toxin case

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One of Ohio’s top water regulators gave a public shout-out Friday to the superintendent of Carroll Township’s water-treatment plant for the decisive action he took when he saw his plant being overwhelmed by Lake Erie’s most prevalent toxin this month.

“My hat is truly off to Henry Biggert. He didn’t hesitate putting out that ‘Do Not Drink’ advisory,” Mike Baker, chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking and ground waters division, told about 150 people during one of the final sessions of the American Water Works Association’s 75th conference for the group’s Ohio section.

The event at the SeaGate Centre in downtown Toledo was an annual gathering of water-treatment plant operators from across the state.

Mr. Biggert shut down the Carroll Township plant Sept. 5 after it was overwhelmed by microcystin, the potentially lethal toxin in Lake Erie’s most pervasive blue-green algae, microcystis. It was the first time a publicly owned water-treatment facility in Ohio went offline over an impending threat by an algae-related toxin.

The toxin level was 3.5 times higher than the World Health Organization standard for drinking water. None of the contaminated water is believed to have been distributed.

The water district’s 2,000 customers were provided bottled water and told not to use their tap water for 48 hours until the system could be flushed and receive backup service from the Port Clinton-based Ottawa Regional Water Plant.

Mr. Baker noted that officials were anxious, wondering if word would reach everyone in time. Nobody was reported sick.

“If he didn’t have that interconnection, I’m not sure where we’d be today,” Mr. Baker said.

Cities such as Toledo have more sophisticated technology. But Toledo officials, who’ve also worked hard and spent more than $150,000 a time this summer fending off the toxin, have said they have no backup if the entire Collins Park Water Treatment Plant ever went offline at once.

Mr. Baker said his staff is just starting to examine lessons from the Carroll Township case. A U.S. EPA spokesman said earlier the case was indeed a public health threat.

“We are constantly looking at how things are being done,” Mr. Baker said.

The Carroll Township plant switched back to its own source of water Wednesday, Mr. Biggert said.

Western Lake Erie, between Monroe and Sandusky, is the Great Lakes region’s most algae-prone area because of its warmth and shallowness.

But conditions that pushed excessive toxins far below the water surface near the Carroll Township intake were almost like a “perfect storm,” Mr. Biggert said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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