Scientists have launched important research to discover how much danger humans face from the toxins released by the pollution-fed algae blooms that develop on Lake Erie every summer.
Researchers from the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio hospital, are working with Wayne State University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a process to diagnose the algae’s liver toxin in people. This will be a first step in assessing the health effects of long-term exposure to the toxin.
The research will provide answers about the effects of algae toxin that have been a mystery so far. What would be even better than the answers this research will provide would be needing them a little less urgently.
We already know the algae is bad for our health, bad for the regional economy, bad for the community. We do not need more research before we act on this problem.
What we need is to ensure the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — targeted for defunding in the 2017 and 2018 federal budgets — has the money it needs to continue its vital work. This should not be in jeopardy with every budget cycle.
We need elected leaders to pursue impaired-water designation for Lake Erie, which will trigger an evaluation and assessment of all the causes of pollution of the lake. It also will prompt the creation of a plan and timetable for addressing the pollution and provide federal money for the work.
Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Gov. John Kasich have resisted calls to pursue the federal designation because they fear it will give the region a black eye. The black eye actually comes from the danger Lake Erie pollution is posing to our quality of life. The quicker a comprehensive assessment and cleanup begins, the quicker the region can move on from it.
We need local leaders and private industry to get serious about eliminating the sources of pollution that are feeding the dangerous algae. Some recent initiatives along these lines will be helpful — ending open-lake dumping of contaminated dredged sediment and curbing some farm fertilizer application practices should reduce the amount of phosphorus in the lake feeding the annual algae blooms. But the region must root out the big and small pollution sources and address them.
Fortunately Toledo has not seen a repeat of the three-day crisis in 2014 that cut off drinking water for more than 500,000 city water customers. We need to know what health risks those water customers might face from consuming Toledo’s drinking water over many years, even when microcystin levels were not high enough to trigger an alarm.
We need to urgently pursue solutions that end the algae-feeding pollution before it damages our community’s health any more.
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