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Ohio 'State of Emergency' Leaves 400,000 Without Water

Officials say agribusiness pollution likely contributed to toxic algae outbreak in Lake Erie, posing risk to human and animal health.

(Photo: Doladimeji  / Public Domain)

(Photo: Doladimeji  / Public Domain)

Over 400,000 people in and near Toledo, Ohio were urgently warned on Saturday to avoid public drinking water due to dangerous levels of toxins that likely stem from a large algae bloom fed by farm fertilizer pollution.

The city of Toledo instructed residents of Toledo and several surrounding suburbs to avoid drinking, brushing their teeth with, or washing dishes in the toxic water, which cannot be decontaminated by boiling. People with liver disease, and skin sensitivities, as well as young children, are being advised by local officials to avoid showering and bathing in the toxic water. Ohio Governor John Kasich declared a state of emergency on Saturday, and officials warn that areas of southeastern Michigan are also affected by contaminated water. 

Stores are quickly running out of bottled water, and long lines are forming at water distribution centers set up in affected areas, according to numerous media reports. The Ohio National Guard reported on Twitter that "Soldiers and Airmen are preparing to deploy to Lucas, Wood, and Fulton Counties to deliver water."

The water supply, which comes from Lake Erie, first showed high levels of dangerous toxin in test results on Friday. According to the city's warning notice issued Saturday, these high levels can cause "abnormal liver function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness."

The city says the crisis "may have been impacted" by an abnormally large algae bloom—likely fed by phosphorous and nitrogen stemming from farm fertilizer and livestock run-off, as well as "malfunctioning septic systems." 

Scientists and environmental campaigners have long warned that pollution from large-scale farming poses a threat to rivers, lakes, and oceans and has contributed to expanding marine dead zones where no animal life can survive.

It is not clear how long the water ban will be in effect or whether other nearby bodies of water could be impacted. Chicago officials announced Saturday that they are moving forward with tests of Lake Michigan's water toxicity as a precaution.

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