Just When You Thought it Was Safe To Drink The Water

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Thirty years ago, Jaws scared a generation from stepping foot into the ocean. Children took solace in the knowledge that a massive shark could only attack them in the water. A modern sequel of Jaws would need to up the ante with a new creature capable of causing harm both in the ocean and on land; enter the terrifying algae.

Occurrences of algae blooms continue to grow around the world’s water supplies including Australia, China, and in the United States. Last August residents in Toledo, Ohio were warned to not drink the water even after boiling. Dangers from blooms extend further than ingesting polluted waters.  Damage to ecosystems can disrupt natural functions and pollute creatures, such as fish, with neurotoxins that may be passed to humans when eaten.

Like all good horror movies, we can even link the villain to society’s own failing. Numerous research papers link these blooms to an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways, which wash out into fresh and saltwater ecosystems. By tracing chemicals back, we find the true mastermind; farmers using excess of fertilizers and wastewater that washes into public water supplies.

Policy makers seem to freeze with fear when confronted with terrifying algae. Regulatory and voluntary programs still haven’t produced a comprehensive and effective effort to stem nutrient pollution and combat the blooms. Left unchecked, water overloaded with nutrients willl cause more blooms in the future.

Unlike horror movies, algae blooms are a real threat. The monster won’t go away by shutting our eyes; we must demand changes in the way we farm if we want a happy ending.



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