EPA Taking Action to Reduce Phosphorus Nutrient Sources in Lake Erie

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is fighting back against the rapidly-expanding algae problem in Lake Erie. Released in March, the United States has created a domestic action plan to lower the amount of phosphorus — a nutrient that largely contributes to the dangerous algal blooms — in the lake.

The plan outlined federal and state efforts to meet binational phosphorus reduction targets set under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement by the U.S. and Canada in 2016. Specifically, the U.S. has committed to lower the amount of phosphorus nutrient sources by 40%, representing a decrease of 7.3 million pounds.

In addition to threatening Lake Erie’s $12.9 billion tourism industry, more than 10 million people rely on it for drinking water, swimming, and fishing, according to the EPA, so the importance of algae removal cannot be emphasized enough.

Algae Blooms on Lake Erie Not a New Issue

Lake Erie is no stranger to algae issues. Algae blooms on the lake have become an increasing issue since the 2000s, mainly due to the large volume of fertilizer used on the area’s farmland, reported The New York Times.

In September 2017, an algae bloom covered more than 700 square miles in the western basin of Lake Erie, according to the publication. The algae turned the lake bright green, causing concern among local residents and officials.

Cyanobacteria is found in algae blooms, which can produce toxins that taint drinking water and damage the local ecosystem. When measured, the amount of toxins found in the algae during this particular bloom were low, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful. Even non-toxic algae blooms can produce microcystin, a toxin that can cause serious liver damage, according to the New York Times report.

Nutrient Water Pollution

Caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the air and water, nutrient pollution is one of the most expensive and challenging environmental issues currently impacting the U.S., according to the EPA. Nitrogen and phosphorus are both nutrients that are natural to aquatic ecosystems. They support the growth of algae and aquatic plants, which fish, shellfish, and smaller organisms rely on for food and shelter.

While a certain level of these nutrients is necessary, too much of them leads to air and water pollution. Human activities are typically the cause of elevated levels, which have been polluting bodies of water for decades. This ultimately causes both major environmental and human health concerns, so finding a way to keep these nutrients at healthy levels is a must.

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