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Ohio State University researchers are hitting harmful algal blooms from multiple angles

Engineers and scientists in multiple disciplines at The Ohio State University are delivering solutions to potential health problems and industry concerns associated with harmful algal blooms—in Lake Erie and inland lakes, as well as around the world.

Below is information about Ohio State researchers and the projects they are working on as part of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI), a statewide response to harmful algal blooms established by the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) in 2014. Ohio Sea Grant, on behalf of Ohio State, the University of Toledo and ODHE, released the report today for the second year of HABRI funding. Eight additional colleges and universities across Ohio participate in this initiative.

Ohio State University projects in progress

Guidance for water treatment operators in the new world of algal toxins. Harmful algal blooms in drinking water sources bring a whole set of unknowns for water treatment plants—from algal toxins to extra organic matter clogging up intake mechanisms. Researchers across the state are testing water treatment techniques to guide operators on the most cost-effective options.

A new weapon in the fight against microcystin. Environmental health scientists are searching for a more environmentally friendly way to reduce microcystins in both lake water and water treatment plants. Microcystins are a toxin produced by the cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, that cause harmful algal blooms. The possible solution: viruses prevalent in water that infect cyanobacteria. One virus type, called Cyanophage LEP, is known to interfere with the blue-green algae structure, destroying its toxic effects. Researchers hope to find a way to use these viruses to limit cyanobacteria near water intakes and possibly in the water treatment process itself.

What do we know about HAB effects on fish? Scientists are developing methods to help state agencies like the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife better measure microcystins (algal toxins) in fish caught during the HAB season in Lake Erie and Ohio reservoirs such as Grand Lake Saint Marys. Their analyses have revealed that six of 73 fish examined in 2015 showed detectable levels of microcystin in muscle tissue (fillets), with all six being captured in Lake Erie (two walleye, yellow perch and white perch). During 2016, microcystins were found in 16 of 65 fish, with 14 of those fish being captured in Lake Erie (mostly in walleye and white bass). However, the levels detected were generally very low. Thus, if the current Ohio Department of Health fish consumption guidelines are followed, eating fish during the HAB season would not pose a risk to human health.

Farmer Sampling Network. Ohio State is working with 56 farmers in the western Lake Erie basin to collect data about the effects of crop selection, irrigation and soil management on phosphorus/nutrient runoff. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are ways to prevent runoff from the farms: One farmer has seen that cover crops have reduced runoff from his fields and confirmed his intention to use cover crops for water conservation and phosphorus runoff prevention in the future.


Additional experts

Marty Kress, executive director, Global Water Institute

Ohio State approach to challenges: combining technical solutions, stakeholder engagement, research and advocacy; 614-688-1906


Justin Chaffin, research scientist, Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory

Oversees water testing for Lake Erie islands at Stone Lab water quality lab; monitors HAB-affected water; 419-285-1845


by Emily Caldwell, University Media Relations