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Officials monitor Lake Erie water closely for hazardous algae

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Carol Snyder of Northwood, Ohio, holds up a jar with water collected from Lake Erie at Maumee Bay State Park on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in Oregon, Ohio. Toledo area residents were once again able to drink tap water after a two-day ban due to algae related toxins.

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Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, 10:33 p.m.
 

Pennsylvania water quality monitors are increasing testing along Lake Erie's shores because of hazardous algae that contaminated drinking water supplies in Ohio.

Testing has gone from once a week to every other day for sections of Presque Isle Bay, its beaches and the surrounding lake, said Gary Clark, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection. Monitors are looking for harmful algal blooms, known as HABs, and microcystin, a toxin released by bacteria that can harm pets and children if they swim in or drink tainted water.

He said the levels along the portion of the lake in Pennsylvania appear to be normal.

“Presque Isle Bay is at highest risk for HABs due to warm, fertile waters,” said Clark in an e-mail. “Monitoring efforts to date indicate no HAB events and no levels of microcystin that would be harmful.”

The city of Erie and North East Borough have off-shore intakes for their public water supplies, he said, and their drinking water is likely unaffected. Clark said the Pennsylvania section of the lake is deeper, with faster-moving water, than the parts farther west.

Cyanobacteria are common in lakes, and researchers have associated blooms with increased sulfur and phosphorus content in still bodies of water. Specific types of cyanobacteria can produce microcystin, which can cause liver problems, numbness and vomiting in those who come in contact with contaminated water. Blooms can take months to dissipate.

Residents of the Toledo area and Southeast Michigan were cautioned against drinking tap water during the height of the bloom. State officials lifted the water ban by Monday afternoon.

On Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh issued a hazardous algal bloom alert for parts of the Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam in New York that are frequented by boaters. Rather than test for the toxin itself, Army Corps of Engineers water quality specialist Rose Reilly said they examine the number of cyanobacteria cells in samples of water. She said it's expensive to test for the toxin, and it's not always clear when the bacteria produce it.

In Quaker Bay and Sawmill Bay, she said, there were more than 100,000 cells per milliliter of water. Based on World Health Organization standards of 20,000 per milliliter or less, she said, those numbers are high. The area doesn't have a lot of beaches, but people and pets still might be affected, she said. Blooms in the past two years have taken until October to dissipate.

Megha Satyanarayana is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7991 or megha@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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