Water wars 2.0
Alaric sacks Ohio! Or was it ALEC?
In the first days of August this year the tap water for half a million people in and around the Toledo, Ohio area contained almost three parts microcystin per billion (1). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends drinking water has no more than one part per billion. Microcystin is a neurotoxin fatal to animals and capable of laying waste to entire ecosystems. Even alligators, whose blood actually produces anti bacterial and anti fungal proteins, are not immune to microcystin’s deadly effects. Its insidious pathology was recently featured in a National Geographic documentary Predator CSI – Zombie Alligators (2). It has been linked to Pansteatitis where the fat on animals turns yellow and takes on the consistency of rubber causing agonizing pain, paralysis and finally death.
In humans microcystin damages the liver and causes skin eruptions. In 1998 in Brazil it was inadvertently administered intravenously to a hundred and twenty six hemodialysis patients. Sixty of them died (3). A few years ago in the US it is suspected of having caused encephalitis when a man got some in his eye while washing it off his dog. The man survived after extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation. He returned to work two years later. The dog died (4).
Microcystin is a cyanotoxin or neurotoxin produced by Microcystis aeruginosa which blooms in mass in Lake Erie during August. Microcystis aeruginosa is a species of freshwater cyanobacteria (5) that causes Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB). The neurotoxin itself cannot be removed by boiling or home filtering your water. In water treatment plants it is usually controlled by treating water with hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate which clings to the toxic particles weighing them down for easy separation. The treated water is then run through powdered activated carbon before it is finally distributed for consumption (6).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no tolerance standards for the presence of microcystin in tap water although it does consider HAB to be a “major environmental problem” in all 50 states (7). In the United States testing for microcystin is done voluntarily by each individual state with different tests and different rules for performing those tests in each state. Ohio uses WHO’s one part per billion and is supposed to notify the public of any readings over 0.5. At levels of 0.3 and under microcystin is considered undetectable. The problems in Toledo were exacerbated when readings from Ohio’s EPA differed from those of the federal EPA.
All the way back in March Ottawa County sanitary engineer Kelly Frey had been warning public officials of an impending end of summer disaster. Frey questioned why the looming health risk of microcystin had not yet even been addressed with a standard for the maximum allowable amount by Ohio’s EPA. In a letter sent out to Ohio’s U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, democrat, Ohio’s U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, democrat and Ohio’s U.S. Senator Rob Portman, republican, Frey wrote “The laissez-faire approach by the Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Health is troubling and gives the appearance of apathy.” Only Representative Marcy Kaptur got back to him (8).
In what may be just a coincidence on Thursday August first Ohio EPA’s chief of the Division of Drinking and Ground Waters, Mike Baker, announced that federal EPA guidelines were on the way. The first alarming reading of 0.6 was taken at Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant on Friday August second. It wasn’t until Sunday August fourth that the Federal EPA confirmed readings in the high twos (9).
On Saturday, bypassing the Ohio EPA, Representative Marcy Kaptur conducted a conference call to the Federal EPA concerned that the Ohio EPA was withholding test results. She demanded immediate disclosure saying “the public has a right to know.” She was told by regional administrator Susan Hedman that although the Feds were doing the testing the state has jurisdiction in the matter. The exasperated congresswoman later said “Whether it’s the State EPA or the Federal EPA makes no difference. The public deserves transparency.” She went on to openly question why the Federal EPA has all the sophisticated equipment necessary to test for microcystin (10) but was not present at any of the meetings and had failed to address the media on the matter.
Eventually the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant tripled its application of activated carbon bringing Toledo’s water down to standards acceptable by WHO for human consumption. In a news conference on August fourth Toledo’s Mayor Michael Collins declared the water once again safe to drink taking a tentative sip for the cameras of a clear liquid in a cheap glass. In spite of the mayors theatrics as late as August fifteenth Toledo water samples were still testing as high as 0.972 parts per billion (11). Minnesota considers water unsafe for consumption at more than 0.4 parts per billion (12).
The problem in Toledo appears to be due to inadequacies in the Collins Park Plant’s intake process. But the putrid blue–green algal blooms associated with microcystin have become endemic in Lake Erie. As they have for the last few years in fresh water lakes all over America from Vermont’s Lake Champlain to Dorena Reservoir in Oregon and from Florida’s Caloosahatchee River to Wisconsin’s Lake Menomin. The source of the rampant algal blooms is water temperatures above sixty degrees Fahrenheit combined with high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen due to fertilizer run off from agricultural production and sludge being pumped from sewage treatment plants.
The Maumee River spans a hundred and thirty seven miles from northeastern Indiana all through northwestern Ohio emptying into Lake Erie at Toledo. Prior to its cultivation through tile drainage it was called the Great Black Swamp. Tile drainage was first introduced to America by Scotchman John Johnston in 1832. Using the ancient old world method of facilitating water seepage through subterranean channels fabricated from tiles Johnson increased the yield almost tenfold on his three hundred and twenty acre farm in Seneca, New York. By the latter half of the century James B. Hill would invent the Buckeye Traction Ditcher a machine that automated the until then labor intensive method of installing the tile. Hill’s ditcher would be used to drain all of northwestern Ohio and go on to recklessly drain huge portions of Florida and Louisiana.
The Great Lakes contain 54% of the liquid fresh water on the earth’s surface. The Maumee River, once the artery of a vast forbidden wetland filtering water into one of the five lakes that comprise the world’s largest group of freshwater lakes, now drains 4.5 million acres of the most cultivated farmland in America into that same lake. Although the Maumee contributes only 3% of the water flowing into Lake Erie it contributes 60% of the phosphorus. The blooms that have plagued the lake for the last few years have all began at the mouth of the river in Maumee Bay. The contamination of Toledo’s drinking water in early August was caused when strong northeasterly winds backed the cyanobacteria up into the bay and wave action forced it through the treatment plants intake valves.
Dr. Jeff Reutter is considered by many to be the world’s premier expert on HAB’s. He is the director of Ohio State University’s fabled Stone Lab which hosted its annual symposium of environmental scientists and writers on August eighteenth and nineteenth. He estimates that a 40% decrease in phosphorus run off into Lake Erie would result in the immediate improvement in the lakes water quality. Putting the science in chronological perspective Dr Reutter said “the retention time for water in the western basin of the lake is 20 to 50 days. So if we could reduce the load of phosphorous into the western basin, these blooms would go away and it would happen very quickly (13).” On August eighth democratic State Representatives Chris Redfern, Michael Ashford, Teresa Fedor and Mike Sheehy held a news conference imploring the rest of Ohio’s democrats and republicans to work together for a bipartisan solution to their states drinking water problems (14). Representative Sheehy promised that he would propose a bill banning the spread of manure on frozen ground. The EPA and most environmental scientists agree that the unregulated spread of fertilizer particularly manure by Ohio’s agricultural and livestock industry’s is the primary culprit. Much of it is spread in winter. The phosphorous leaches into the ice and ends up running off into Lake Erie with the spring melt (15). Sheehy said that he had planned on amending the measure to state Senate Bill 150 signed into law in early June by Governor John Kasich but he had feared that the extra regulation would prevent the bill’s passage at the time. SB 150 requires Ohio farmers who use commercial fertilizer to be certified by the state but it will not go into effect until 2017. Representative Fedor said Kasich should declare the Maumee River a distressed watershed. This was already done with great success in Grand Lake St. Mary’s in western Ohio and Wisconsin’s Green Bay watershed. The designation allows the state to impose regulations. Fedor said “This is just a commonsense step towards protecting our waterways and protecting our drinking water, number one. It’s so solvable. It’s a no-brainer (16).” The EPA makes other recommendations for curbing phosphorous runoff into Lake Erie, most notably the use of cover crops, buffer zones, better sewerage treatment and no till farming but in a recent interview by Reporter Christy McDonald of Detroit public television Dr. Reutter does not seem to agree. “When we look at different places around the country where they’re having harmful algal blooms, some of them are going to be driven by agricultural loading, but some of them are going to be poor sewage treatment plants or a bunch of failing septic tanks, but, in Lake Erie, it’s primarily agriculture (17).” As the home of Wright Patterson Air Force Base Ohio just may be the capital of the earth’s military defense industry but economically, at least on paper, agriculture is king. A full one out of seven people are employed in the agricultural industry. Governor Kasich calls it “the strongest industry in Ohio” and “the bedrock of the state of Ohio (18).” Kasich, Ohio’s governor since 2011 is a republican. He is one of the principle architects of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); the notorious corporate lobbying consortium controlled by the Koch Brothers. According to ALEC’s web site; back in 1981 when Kasich was an Ohio State Senator he was instrumental in forming an alliance “between ALEC members and Reagan Administration officials, ALEC established seven first-generation Task Forces, then called Cabinet Task Forces, which worked directly with the administration on policy development issues (19).” Kasich’s resume also includes working as a FOX commentator and a stint as an investment banker for the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers. Kasich has been dubbed by many as the anti environmental governor for his signing of Ohio State Senate Bill 310. Inexplicably SB310 suspends Ohio’s revenue saving and job generating alternative energy program at least till the end of 2017 while a “study committee” reviews its impact. Ohio’s landmark green energy legislation SB221 was signed into law in 2008 by Ohio’s then democratic governor Ted Strickland. The bill had already passed through the house and senate with a combined vote of a hundred and thirty-two to one. Since SB221 went into effect Ohio’s clean energy sector has provided twenty-five thousand jobs (20), at least a billion dollars in private sector investment (21) and by dropping electricity rates by almost a percent and a half saved rate payers approximately two hundred and thirty million dollars (22). SB310, suspending SB221, was signed into law by Kasich on June 13 against the wishes of “more than 70 percent of Ohioans (23).” Former governor Ted Strickland was livid over the arbitrary sabotage of the legislation saying “it was legislation developed over months of bipartisan discussions about how to create jobs in an emerging industry and position Ohio as a national leader in the production of renewable energy. It has been working — jobs are being created, investments are being made, and rate-payers are saving money.” Ed Fitzgerald, Kasich’s democratic opponent in his bid for reelection this November, immediately issued a statement. “Tonight, Governor Kasich’s office announced that he intends to move Ohio’s economy, families, and environment backwards. SB 310 will force utility prices to rise, and cost Ohioans thousands of jobs. In signing this bill, Governor Kasich will align himself with the Koch Brothers and the wealthy and well connected — and against working Ohioans. As Governor, I will work to make Ohio a national energy leader, rather than make headlines for trapping Ohio in the Rust Belt (24).”
A study by Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, done right before the passage of SB310, found that eighty-six percent of Ohio voters supported the state’s energy efficiency programs. The blatant disregard of the democratic process in Ohio is nothing less than the sacking of an entire state by previously diverse but always exploitive corporate interests that have coalesced into a single fearsome political entity. ALEC’s “Private Enterprise Advisory Council” includes Koch Industries, Energy Future Holdings, Peabody Energy, and ExxonMobil. In 2013 ALEC introduced over seventy bills in thirty seven states designed to neutralize Americas clean energy initiatives.
The Los Angeles Times has spelled it out for America in their headlines “Koch brothers, big utilities attack solar, green energy policies (25).” The international British publication The Guardian has described ALEC as “a dating agency for Republican state legislators and big corporations, bringing them together to frame rightwing legislative agendas in the form of ‘model bills’ (26).” Even capitalist bastion Bloomberg Businessweek admits that ALEC’s façade of being an altruistic organization of “Jeffersonian idealists” acting as legislative advisors is farcical saying “Part of Alec’s mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass roots work (27).” After describing how Senator Bill Seitz, an ALEC board member (28), neutered Ohio legislation designed to recover for Ohio’s taxpayers revenue lost through fraudulent business practices The New York Times went on to accuse ALEC of turning legislators “into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes (29).” In spite of the better part of the western Medias efforts to cover its plundering ALEC was never mentioned once in any of the thirty-two articles published in Ohio’s major papers purporting to explain SB 310 to their readers. This was in spite of the fact that the bills most vociferous proponents; Senator Bill Seitz, Senator Keith Faber, Senator Frank LaRose and Representative William G. Batchelder are all known members of ALEC (30). At the beginning of 2013 ALEC listed sixty-two Ohio legislators as members (31). They are almost all republicans. Thirty-six of those names will be appearing on Ohio’s ballots this November fourth.* Although he is a member of ALEC and his term expires at the end of the year Senator David T. Daniels will not be running for reelection in November. Governor Kasich appointed him Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture on February fifteenth, 2012. Daniels, whom throughout a political career spanning almost his entire adult life has “fought against unnecessary red tape and regulations and to foster a healthy business climate (32),” will be pivotal in working with the EPA to regulate phosphorous runoff from Ohio’s mammoth agricultural industries into the water of approximately twelve million people that live in the Lake Erie watershed (33). The same day democratic representatives Redfern, Ashford, Fedor and Sheehy were holding their news conference presenting solutions and pleading for bipartisan cooperation Republican House Speaker Senator Troy Balderson, noted author of the anti-environmental legislation SB310 and known member of ALEC’s “Natural Resources Task Force,” appointed fellow republican and member of ALEC; Representative David Hall, chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. “As we move forward looking at the algae blooms, we will probably see some other bills produced,” Hall is quoted as saying. “I expect everything that deals with manure management, and anything else on that level, to go through my committee (34).”
*Legislators listed as ALEC members running for reelection November fourth in Ohio:
Representative Ron Amstutz District 1, Representative Marlene Anielski District 6, Senator Kevin Bacon Senate District 3, Representative Nan A. Baker District 16, Representative Louis W. Blessing III District 29, Representative Terry Boose District 57, Representative Andrew Brenner District 67, Representative Jim Buchy District 84, Representative Jim Butler District 4, Representative Margaret Conditt District 52, Representative Rex Damschroder District 88, Representative Timothy Derickson District 53, Representative Mike Dovilla District 7, Representative Anne Gonzales District 19, Representative Cheryl L. Grossman District 23, Representative Bob D. Hackett District 74, Representative Christina Hagan District 50, Representative David Hall District 70, Representative Bill Hayes District 72, Senator Clifford Kime Hite Senate District 1, Senator Shannon Jones Senate District 7, Senator Kris Jordan Senate District 19, Casey Kozlowski running for Ashtabula County Commissioner, Representative Allen Landis District 98, Representative Ron Maag District 62, Senator Gale L Manning Senate District 13, Representative Jeff McClain District 87, Representative Kristina Roegner District 37, Representative Cliff Rosenberger District 91, Representative Margaret Ann Ruhl District 68, Representative Barbara R. Sears District 47, Senator Bill Seitz Senate District 8, Representative Peter Stautberg District 27, Representative Michael Stinziano District 18, Representative Andy Thompson District 95, Representative Ron Young District 61.
(1) – Warren, Lisa Stromme. “ONLY ON: Kaptur Concerned Ohio EPA Withholding Test Results: Toledo’s Friday Night Toxins Test Came Back at Almost Three Parts per Billion.” Toledo News Now. 3 Aug. 2014 Web. <http://www.toledonewsnow.com/story/26185542/toledos-friday-night-toxins-test-came-back-at-almost-three-parts-per-billion>.
(2) – “Predator CSI – Zombie Alligators.” You Tube. National Geographic, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o90Wza9vgw>.
(3) – “Fatal Microcystin Intoxication in Haemodialysis Unit in Caruaru, Brazil.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. PubMed.gov, 4 July 1998. Web. 9 Sept. 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9800741.