Natural Solutions to Algae Pollution

May 8, 2019
Two new methods for removing microcystin toxins from water

Every year, as temperatures rise, waterways across the US are overcome with algal blooms. Some of these algae species can produce toxins such as microcystin that are harmful to humans.

In 2014, an algal bloom in Lake Erie, now known as the Toledo Water Crisis, left half a million residents without safe drinking water for three days.

Researchers from the University of Toledo have recently developed two promising new methods of removing microcystin toxins from water. One method pioneered by Dr. Jon Kirchhoff and Dr. Dragan Isailovic involves the use of organic rice husks treated with hydrochloric acid and heated to 250°C. In an extensive study, the University of Toledo team discovered that rice husks removed more than 95% of microcystin MC-LR in concentrations of up to 596 parts per billion (ppb). A second study, led by microbiology professor Dr. Jason Huntley, harnesses naturally present bacteria to consume toxins. Huntley's research focuses on specific strains of bacteria that degrade microcystin toxin MC-LR at a rate of up to 19 parts per billion each day.

"We've identified groups of bacteria in Lake Erie that can be used to naturally purify water. To our knowledge, these bacteria have not been previously used to fight harmful algal blooms in other parts of the world," said Huntley.

The US EPA recommends that adults not drink water containing more than 1.6 ppb of microcystin. Do you think that these treatment techniques could help keep consumers safe from harmful toxins produced by algal blooms in the future?

About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.

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