Large, Toxic Algal Bloom in Lake Erie Are Occurring, Are We Prepared?
Flint Michigan became synonymous with disaster after their water source was switched. For nearly two years, the Midwest city of roughly 100,000 people was unable to drink water from their taps due to dangerously high levels of lead. While it is true that Flint currently reins as the poster child for all things related to undrinkable water, the harsh reality is millions of people across the Great Lakes region are unable to safely drink their water. Water is essential and fundamental to the existence of basic life. When people think about ‘access’ to water, it’s natural for people to assume reference to the water that comes out of one’s tap. Even still, many people across the region, some right in our own neighborhoods, are dealing with the effects of water shutoffs. In the City of Detroit alone, its estimated that more than 100,000 people have lost access to water due to unaffordable water bills. While many civil rights activist, social advocates, and lawyers seek remedies from the state to address ongoing water shutoffs in Detroit, it’s important to understand that water quality is closely related to water access.
In the Great Lakes region, where water touches the 8 surrounding states, water is highly valuable for both personal use, and it’s importance to our economies. A recent study published by the Great Lakes Commission, concluded that “for every dollar spent on GLRI projects from 2010 – 2016 will produce $3.35 in additional economic output in the Great Lakes region through 2036”. The economic value of tourism and connection to water accessibility can’t be understated. Family trips to the beach, swimming, kayaking, and canoeing, provide some of the most entertaining and family fun activities around the region. However, even beaches aren’t always safe. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, formerly known as MDEQ, recently announced several beach closings due to high levels of contamination. When our water is deemed unsafe to drink, bathe, and play in, it causes an immeasurable amount of harm and trauma in how our children experience water. As a child, most people can recall the bubble baths they shared with siblings, the slip & slides at a local playground, or beach parties with friends. But contaminated water does the opposite, it leaves scars.
Freshwater Future, in partnership with The Junction Coalition of Toledo, hosted a youth water camp in which youth ages 11-19 canoed the Maumee River and received water policy education around Algal Blooms in Lake Erie. In connecting the issues of Lake Erie to the rest of the region, engagement activities centered around the living organisms in the ecosystem, all of the Great Lakes, and most importantly, the health and well-being of residents being impacted by Algae. Just recently, several reports have surface that Algal Blooms are returning with clear threats posed to public health and safety. A public health advisory has been set by the Ohio Department of Health, issuing a ‘Do Not Touch’ warning to residents in the area. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to imagine that in a short amount of time following our youth water camp experience, the very same Maumee River where our kids canoed with Wilderness Inquiry is now shut down and deemed unsafe to touch. All over the region, young people are exposed to unseen dangers in their drinking water. From the ongoing water crisis in Flint, the high lead levels in Highland Park, to now the ‘forever chemicals’ PFAS, our water stands to harm the next generations if we do not act immediately. Water issues such as lead exposure, have the ability to cause permanent psychological and physiological damage to children before they even reach adulthood. Over time, lead eventually settles into a person’s bones, with possible implications for pre-genetic exposure for children born to mothers whom have been exposed to lead. Algal Blooms, cause skin rashes, hives, and blisters. PFAS has been closely linked to several health issues including cancer. Our children take the brunt of that, especially when exposure is occurring in the developmental stages of a child’s life. Without knowing it, every drink of toxic water for our most vulnerable, greatly endangers our child’s future, and the generations thereafter.
These are the exact public health dangers we need to be aware of so we can work to prevent as much harm as possible. This Saturday marks the 5th anniversary of the Toledo water crisis. Algae Blooms, which caused the City of Toledo to shutdown its drinking water supply to protect public health in 2014, are now back on the radar. However, this time we must be better prepared for an emergency. In such a short amount of time, a public disaster can arise, threatening hundreds of thousands in an area. It is critically important to the public to have readily available information so we can protect our families. Anything less than clear and transparent communication to mitigate unsafe drinking water is inexcusable. Not sure whom to contact in the case of an emergency? Our partners at the Junction Coalition have a helpful tool to use in this year’s algal bloom season.The Water Quality Dashboard is simple and easy to understand, including who your concerns should be addressed too. Contact your local official today to gain the most up-to-date information related to water quality in your community.