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Producing Safe Drinking Water for Lake Erie Residents

10:57 am, Wed November 2, 2016 – The Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) funds research into making drinking water safer

The Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) continues to support research efforts focused on solving Ohio’s harmful algal bloom problem. Started in response to Toledo’s 2014 harmful algal bloom and subsequent drinking water ban, the initiative has provided $4 million in funding for projects ranging from monitoring algal blooms as they develop in Lake Erie to studying the impacts of microcystin on liver disease.

Led by representatives from The Ohio State University and the University of Toledo, and managed by Ohio Sea Grant, HABRI encompasses research projects in four major focus areas: tracking blooms from the source, protecting public health, producing safe drinking water, and educating and engaging people about addressing harmful algal blooms.

More information about the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative is available at go.osu.edu/habri.


One of the most direct impacts of algal blooms on humans is the safety of drinking water. The August 2014 harmful algal bloom in Toledo shut off water for more than three days, an impact felt by residents and businesses alike. In addition to monitoring bloom locations and adjusting both water intake and treatment methods accordingly, new treatments for contaminated drinking water are being developed to remove both algal particles in general and the toxins produced by cyanobacteria in particular.

Preliminary results have shown 100% destruction of microcystin when contaminated water is treated with high ozone gas concentrations

Dr. Youngwoo Seo at the University of Toledo, along with Dr. Isabel Escobar at the University of Kentucky, are developing new methods to remove microcystin, the main toxin produced by harmful algal blooms, from drinking water using various filtration methods as well as ozone gas.

“We currently study multiple processes in the water treatment train, and each step can provide an additional barrier to remove a contaminant from water,” Seo explained. “As part of the study, we consider both conventional and membrane filtration systems, coupled with ozonation that can oxidize and break down all the organic matter, including algal toxin, in the water.”

Laboratory results so far have shown that bubbling ozone into a microcystin solution can lead to 100% destruction of the toxin, but further experiments will be needed to achieve similar results at the desired ozone concentration and treatment time with filtration. A range of filtration systems are also showing promising results, removing up to 96.9% of microcystin from the tested solutions.

Once these separate experiments are completed, combinations of ozone and filtration systems will be examined to determine the best pairing for toxin removal and cost effectiveness. The laboratory models can eventually be scaled up for use at water treatment plants that deal with harmful algal blooms in their water supply.

ARTICLE TITLE: Producing Safe Drinking Water for Lake Erie Residents PUBLISHED: 10:57 am, Wed November 2, 2016 | MODIFIED: 3:56 pm, Wed April 26, 2017
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Christina Dierkes
Outreach Specialist, Ohio Sea Grant College Program

As Ohio Sea Grant’s science writer, Christina covers research, education and outreach projects in the Great Lakes for a wide range of audiences. She also helps manage online events like the Global Change, Local Impact climate webinar series.

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