TOLEDO, Ohio — A water ban that had hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio and Michigan scrambling for drinking water was lifted Monday, yet some residents still weren’t ready to take a sip.
Mayor D. Michael Collins called the drinking water safe and lifted the ban at a Monday morning news conference.
“Our water is safe,” Collins said, taking a drink of tap water from a glass. “Families can return to normal life.”
Ohio’s fourth-largest city warned residents not to use city water early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, most likely from algae on Lake Erie. Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency.
Test results on Sunday started to suggest the algae-induced toxin contaminating the lake had probably dissipated to safe levels, but the mayor said two tests had come back “too close for comfort.” It wasn’t until the water warning entered its third day that Collins said six new samples came back without traces of the toxin.
Carbon was added to the water at the point of intake and chlorine was also added into the system to help clean the water, the mayor said.
“This isn’t an exact science,” he said.
City officials recommended that residents who had not used their water since the ban started flush out their systems by running water. They also cautioned everyone not to all do it at once, and told people not to water lawns or wash cars at the risk of overwhelming the system.
Kasich said the state would be conducting a full review of what happened, including taking a look into Toledo’s water intake system. He said it’s still not clear whether the algae bloom that was centered where Toledo draws water in the lake was entirely to blame.
“We just don’t know,” Kasich said.
The governor said the most important thing now is to focus on the operating side. He said the state would continue to determine how to reduce the algae problem.
“We were able to get through this; I know it was difficult,” said Kasich, who pointed out that state, local and federal agencies worked throughout the weekend together to solve the problem.
Some residents who were told not to drink, brush their teeth or cook with the water were relieved the advisory had been lifted but still weren’t convinced it was safe just yet.
“I’m waiting for two or three days,” said Aretha Howard, who helped handout bottled water out at a high school. “I have a pregnant daughter at home. She can’t drink this water.”
Worried residents had descended on truckloads of bottled water delivered from across the state. The Ohio National Guard was using water purification systems to produce drinkable water.
In southeastern Michigan, authorities were operating water stations Sunday for the 30,000 customers affected by the toxic contamination.
Drinking the water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes. But no serious illnesses had been reported by Monday morning. Health officials advised children and those with weak immune systems to avoid showering or bathing in the water.
Tap water accounts for two-thirds of the drinking water consumed in homes across the U.S., according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture three years ago, while research from the Beverage Marketing Corporation shows that bottled water makes up half of all water consumed nationwide.
Amid the emergency, discussion began to center around how to stop the pollutants fouling the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people. The toxins that contaminated the region’s drinking water supply didn’t just suddenly appear.
Collins said that, going forward, scientists and political leaders need to come together and figure out how to address the algae problem in Lake Erie.
“It didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not getting out of this overnight,” Collins said.
Water plant operators along western Lake Erie have long been worried about this very scenario as a growing number of algae blooms have turned the water into a pea soup color in recent summers, leaving behind toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.
In fact, the problems on the shallowest of the five Great Lakes brought on by farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade.