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Toledo Water Crisis

Three Days in August: “Do Not Drink the Water”

Men moving cases of bottle water

Soldiers from the Ohio National Guard’s 73rd Troop Command pack bottled water for delivery to water distribution sites throughout Toledo, Ohio, Aug. 3, 2014. MASTER SGT. BETH HOLLIKER/OHIO AIR NATIONAL GUARD

For three days in August of 2014, 400,000 people in the Toledo, Ohio, area were suddenly without water when cyanotoxins called microcystins spiked in Lake Erie.

Below, excerpts from public bulletins from the City of Toledo document the unfolding crisis. All punctuation and emphasis are original as the bulletins appeared on the City’s web page.

August 2

Urgent water notice!



Chemists testing water at Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant had two sample readings for microcystin in excess of the recommended “DO NOT DRINK” 1 microgram per liter standard.  This notice applies to ALL customers of Toledo water.

Most importantly, water should not be consumed until an all clear is issued. It is important to state that this drinking water alert does NOT recommend boiling, and in fact, boiling water can worsen the situation. Water should not be given to pets.

Additional information as to where to obtain water will be forthcoming….

Consuming water containing algal toxins may result in abnormal liver function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness.  Seek medical attention if you feel you have been exposed to algal toxins and are having adverse health effects. Contact a veterinarian immediately if pets or livestock show signs of illness.

What happened?  What is being done?

Lake Erie, which is a source of drinking water for the Toledo water system may have been impacted by a harmful algal bloom (HAB).  These organisms are capable of producing a number of toxins that may pose a risk to human and animal health.  HABs occur when excess nitrogen and phosphorus are present in lakes and streams.  Such nutrients can come from runoff of over-fertilized fields and lawns, from malfunctioning septic systems and from livestock pens.

Additional monitoring is being conducted and we will let you know when the situation has been resolved or if additional precautions should be taken.  The water system is running additional tests to verify the severity of the microcystin levels in our water supply.

Satellite view of algal bloom in Lake Erie

Algal Bloom in Lake Erie on August 7, 2014. Toledo is at the far western (left) end. NOAA

August 3

Update on Water Distribution Centers

New Distribution Site Added—Parkway Plaza 10:00 am

The Governor, City of Toledo, Lucas County Emergency Management Agency, Lucas County, surrounding cities, law enforcement, and health and safety personnel are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.

Governor Kasich and his staff along with US EPA, Ohio EPA, the City of Toledo, Lucas County, Lucas County Emergency Management Agency conducted a conference call this morning to discuss the ongoing operations. All distribution sites are up and running. Donations of commercially sealed water can be taken to any one of the distribution centers.

Distribution centers are open and will be staffed at these locations today….

Water at retail stores have been restocked and we will continue to keep water flowing.

Restaurants are to continue to remain closed this morning unless they can use bottled water for cooking, washing of dishes, and other proper areas of food preparation.

August 4

Water in Toledo declared safe for consumption

Effective immediately, customers of the City of Toledo Public Water system may now safely drink tap water. Consistent test results have shown microcystin no longer exceeds the recommended drinking water warning of 1 microgram per liter standard….

We are asking the public to conserve non-essential water usage to help our water treatment plant as it returns to full operation. Conservation efforts, such as refraining from watering grass, should continue until further notice.

We would like to thank our community for their patience and their support during this water emergency system as well as all of those who assisted during our community’s moment of challenge.

For customers who have concerns regarding flushing of household water, if you have had no water use (including flushing toilets) you should flush the water lines in your home….

Distribution centers will close at 11 a.m.

For the rest of the month, the City continued to issue water bulletins describing repairs to water-treatment facilities and denying rumors of a second looming water emergency.

Source: City of Toledo

These excerpts accompanied “A Study in Cyan” when published in the March, 2016, issue of the Interstate Water Report. The Cyan article looks at the problem of cyanobacteria and is available online and as a reprint. The reprint includes “Toledo Water Crisis.”

The Interstate Water Report is the predecessor of Interstate Waters, NEIWPCC’s twice-yearly magazine.

A Study in Cyan

This story is available as a reprint, one of a series from NEIWPCC. It was originally published in the March, 2016, issue of the Interstate Water Report, the predecessor of Interstate Waters.