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An Ominous Fog
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June 15, 2017
Alternatives Journal
Southeast Lake Erie shore of Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada. Credit: Tom Archer

The blooms returned in 2002. Many hoped the toxic sludge of algae that blanketed the western and central basins of Lake Erie was gone for good, yet the volume of smothering plant matter was growing steadily. Summers from 2008 to 2010 were bloom-heavy in the shallowest of the Great Lakes. “And then we got 2011,” says University of Toledo limnologist Thomas Bridgeman. Following the wettest spring on record, algae populations skyrocketed, choking nearly 200 kilometres of Ohio beach from Cleveland to Toledo. Much of it was microcystis, a poisonous strand of blue-green algae containing the toxin microcystin that can cause nausea and liver failure in mammals. It can also be lethal. The drinking water of 2.8 million Americans was tainted with microcystin, exceeding the World Health Organization’s safe consumption limit by 1,200 percent. Dead algae sank to the lake bottom where it ate huge quantities of Erie’s oxygen as it decomposed, fabricating dead zones where sustaining life was impossible.

Then things got bad. 


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