A river to a major city is now so polluted that almost half a million people residents have been told not to drink their tap water. Sounds like China, right? Think Toledo, Ohio. While we have been following the rolling environmental disasters in China, we often forget about our own failure to protect the basic health of our citizens. Toledo is such an example. While newspapers have detailed how algae blooms are releasing toxins, they largely fail to state the likely reason or downplay it: phosphorous and nitrogen from farm fertilizer runoff.
Way back in the late 1970s, I worked at the Smithsonian Center for Environmental Research in Maryland where scientists were doing some of the early work on how such runoff was killing the Chesapeake Bay. It was and remains a touchy subject in Washington because of the agribusiness lobby.
In Toledo, over 400,000 people have been told to avoid swallowing the water. They were also told not to try to boil the water because that would increase the concentration of the microcystin toxin. The City of Toledo issued a warning that water “should not be consumed until an all clear is issued.”
Restaurants were asked not to use city water to even wash dishes.
The source of the water is Lake Erie, where phosphorous and nitrogen runoff has continued to pollute the waters.