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Expert: Threat from Lake Erie algae bloom that contaminated Toledo's water is winding down

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TOLEDO, Ohio — The likelihood of another algae outbreak this year on Lake Erie with the potential to contaminate drinking water is winding down.

Algae on the lake will stick around into October, but the threat of a large harmful algae bloom developing again this year appears to be over, said Jeff Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant Program, which studies water quality issues.

"I don't think we're going to see anything significant," he said Monday at a meeting of the Ohio Farmers Union in Toledo.

Residents who get their drinking water from western Lake Erie have been keeping a close watch on the algae since early August when toxins produced by blue-green algae fouled the water supply in Toledo, forcing the state's fourth-largest city to issue a do-not-drink advisory for a little more than two days.

About four weeks later, some residents of a small Canadian island were warned not to use their well water because of potentially toxic algae in the lake.

The threat of toxic algae outbreaks generally begins in mid-summer and lasts through mid-September. This year's algae bloom on the lake has been called "significant" by forecasters but it has been much smaller than the record-setting 2011 outbreak that spread from Toledo to Cleveland.

Blooms of blue-green algae have been on the rise in western Lake Erie for more than a decade but the issue has taken center stage since the drinking water in Toledo was contaminated. The algae growth is fed by phosphorus mainly from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants.

In recent weeks, both farm industry groups and state and federal lawmakers have pledged to spend millions on cutting down on the pollutants that feed the algae.

Ohio Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, as well as U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, also have called for new federal rules regulating algae in drinking water.

The legislation would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to publish a health advisory and provide immediate federal guidance on a safe drinking standard for microcystin, a toxin produced by algae that can cause headaches or vomiting when swallowed.

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