Aug. 03--A once-unthinkable crisis in the world's greatest freshwater region -- one that sent more than 500,000 metro Toledo residents scrambling for bottled water Saturday -- enters its second day today, with officials inside the city's Collins Park Water Treatment Plant wondering how much longer it will take before clean, safe, and reliable tap water will flow again from faucets of area homes and businesses.
"We've been getting mixed results," Jeff Martin, a senior chemist at the plant, confessed during an exclusive interview with The Blade on Saturday while performing tests for microcystin -- a toxin produced by the harmful blue-green algae known as microcystis -- inside the plant's laboratory on samples drawn from 39 metro Toledo sites.
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The cause of the microcystis algae bloom is primarily phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff, and the amount of phosphorus determines the bloom's size. Scientists are also learning that another farm fertilizer, nitrogen, affects the size and composition of the annual bloom.
Toledo sits on the shoreline of the Great Lakes, which holds 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water.
A small water treatment plant in Ottawa County's Carroll Township was Ohio's first to be overwhelmed by the toxin last September.
Until 2 a.m. Saturday, city and state environmental officials maintained such a crisis was unlikely in Toledo because the water plant is western Lake Erie's largest and most sophisticated.
But after seeing symptoms of a problem emerge late Friday -- a series of suspicious test results that showed a pattern of contamination -- officials were told by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to issue the city's first "do not drink" or boil warning to the system's customers.
The warning went out on
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said he was notified about 10 p.m. Friday that the numbers weren't good -- even though the algae season has barely begun.
About midnight, he heard of the Ohio EPA's plans to issue a warning against drinking the water.
"I don't believe we'll ever be back to normal," the mayor said during an evening news conference. "But this is not going to be our new normal. We're going to fix this. Our city is not going to be abandoned."
For most of Saturday, Mr. Collins and others conferred among themselves and via phone with Gov. John Kasich from the Lucas County Emergency Services Building near downtown after the governor had declared a state of emergency.
Meanwhile, confusion reigned inside the Toledo water treatment plant, with no clear answers if other water systems in the western Lake Erie region were in danger of a similar crisis or if Toledo might have possibly had a series of false positives because of the federal EPA's failure to settle on standard testing protocol.
Water plant operators from Monroe to Sandusky have been urging the federal regulatory agency to develop a testing standard, asserting they are the public's last line of defense but are left without knowing the best way to test for microcystin.
"They have just been sort of waffling on it," Mr. Martin said about the U.S. EPA.
The federal agency has said it is still months away from finalizing such a standard.
Toledo has an eight-phase treatment process.
The chemical permanganate is applied in the water-intake crib 3 miles north of the shoreline, starting the treatment process before the water even gets to the plant, which can take six to 12 hours. The length of time aids in reducing contaminants, officials said.