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Research project aims to safeguard Great Lakes and your drinking water from harmful toxins

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Rising global temperatures are causing harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes which can lead to the emergence of three toxins in the water, according to the past president of the International Ozone Association.

Saad Jasim, an adjunct professor at the University of Windsor, is preparing for a new research project to prevent these toxins from entering the drinking water supply.

The project involves taking water samples from the Detroit River, ozonating them, and analyzing them to check for levels of microcystins, anatoxins, and cylindrospermopsis.

Microcystins and cylindrospermopsins can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation, pneumonia, kidney damage, and potential tumor growth.

Ingesting high amounts of anatoxins can lead to numbness, drowsiness, incoherent speech, respiratory paralysis, and even death.

"With climate change, we've seen impacts on increasing temperature and that has contributed to the growth of algal bloom. We've seen it quite visibly in Lake Erie," said Jasim, adding these toxins thrive on algae.

"Some of them have an impact on the liver and some on the nervous system as well. They are fatal."

The purpose of testing these samples is to measure the effectiveness of ozonation to eliminate these toxins.

"Ozone technology is probably more expensive in terms of the infrastructure upgrades — but it may be the gold standard for removing toxins," said Mike McKay, executive director for the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.

People in Windsor do not need to be concerned about these toxins being prevalent in the drinking water right now, according to McKay.

That's because ozonation is not new to Windsor.

"Windsor adopted this technology more than two decades ago. It's highly effective at removing or removing toxins from the water," he said, adding Windsor is considered the first city in Ontario to ozonate its water supply.

In 2014, the water treatment plant in Toledo, which borders Lake Erie, sucked up a bloom of blue-green algae. A high level of toxins leeched into the drinking water supply, resulting in green water coming out of people's taps.

Toledo began ozonating its water seven years after.

"We also had a case on Pelee Island that same year, affecting a much smaller population, of course, where some microcystsins made their way into the into finished water supply," said McKay.

According to GLIER's executive director, climate change is currently the biggest concern for scientists when it comes to the Great Lakes.

"It tops the list for any of the work we're doing, whether it be the loss of ice cover in the winter ... or the warming of the lakes in the summer," said McKay.

According to McKay, the Canadian government has not adopted guidelines specifically for anatoxins and cylindrospermopsins in the water supply.

"So this new project may actually be helpful in guiding Health Canada to adopt guidelines for these toxins," he said.

As for Jasim, he said there is administrative work must be done and additional funding must be acquired to get the study up and running.

"This project is sponsored partially by Enwin Utilities and we're very grateful for that. We're looking for more partners," said Jasim.

"We're very committed to looking at issues, even before they arise. We need to think globally and act locally."  

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