US House approves bill to step up fight against toxic algae

 

February 26, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. Members of Congress have called for more aggressive federal action to prevent toxic algae from contaminating the Great Lakes and other waterways around the nation, such as an outbreak on Lake Erie last summer that left more than 400,000 people without safe tap water for two days.

The House approved a bill this week that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop within 90 days of enactment a plan for assessing and managing risk from algal toxins such as cyanobacteria a type of bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae. The bacteria produce a toxin called microcystin, which can cause liver damage.

Such toxins pose "a serious concern to human health and safety," said Rep. Bob Latta, an Ohio Republican and the measure's chief sponsor.

It was approved Tuesday on a 375-to-37 vote and sent to the Senate, where a similar bill has been introduced.

Lake Erie, shallowest of the five Great Lakes, has been plagued with large blooms of cyanobacteria for more than a decade. In addition to endangering people, the toxins can kill pets, farm animals and wildlife. Severe bacterial pollution last August prompted officials to issue a do-not-drink order for public water systems in parts of northwestern Ohio, including Toledo, and southeastern Michigan.

Experts blame the outbreaks largely on phosphorus and other nutrients that wash into the lake from fertilized farmland, sewage treatment plants and septic tanks.

Testimony during House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings revealed that other toxins related to algae could cause problems as well, Latta said.

EPA spokesman Robert Daguillard said Wednesday the agency does not comment on pending legislation. But he said EPA has been evaluating microcystin and other contaminants linked to algal blooms and crafting guidelines for helping state and local officials deal with them.

Also under development are methods lab technicians can use to test water systems for algal toxins, as well as public health advisories with information about microcystin and another toxin.

"EPA is working diligently with its partners to combat the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution problems in the U.S.," the agency said in a written statement.

 

Associated Press