Imagine being told not to drink, shower, or brush your teeth with tap water. That’s what happened to residents of Toledo, Ohio, and parts of Michigan over the weekend after tap water coming from Lake Erie was found to be unsafe. Hundreds of thousands of people were affected.
The water ban began on Saturday. As a temporary solution, bottled water was trucked into the area and the Ohio National Guard was purifying water for residents. But by Monday morning, the ban had been lifted.
“Our water is safe,” said Toledo mayor D. Michael Collins. “Families can return to normal life.” To reassure people, he took a sip from a glass of the city’s tap water.
Toledo is Ohio’s fourth-largest city. News about the water ban came after tests at one water-treatment plant showed high levels of the toxin microcystin. Algae cause the toxin. Following the warning, Ohio Governor John Kasich declared a state of emergency.
Drinking the contaminated water could cause vomiting, cramps, and rashes, residents were told. Health officials said that children and those with weak immune systems should not shower or bathe in the water.
To try to solve the problem, city officials added carbon and chlorine to the water. Test results on Sunday showed that the toxins had probably reached a safe level, but Mayor Collins said two tests had come back “too close for comfort.” It wasn’t until Monday that the mayor announced that six new water samples had come back clean and safe to drink.
Planning for the Future
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. Officials test the quality of the water to make sure it is healthy for people to drink.
During the emergency in Ohio and Michigan this weekend, officials began to talk about how to stop pollutants from fouling Lake Erie. The lake supplies drinking water for 11 million people, and the toxins that contaminated the region's drinking water didn't just suddenly appear.
Toledo mayor D. Michael 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.
For now, though, it looks like the worst is over. By Monday morning, no serious illnesses had been reported as a result of the contaminated water.