Toledo researchers seek way to diagnose algal toxin exposure

Associated Press

TOLEDO — With algae blooms likely to start forming on western Lake Erie this month, experts at the University of Toledo Medical Center are working to develop a test to diagnose people exposed to algal toxins. They call that a critical step in combatting a global problem.

Professor David Kennedy at the medical center tells The Blade newspaper that the research could put the school on the map because toxin-carrying algal blooms are on the rise around the world.

Nearly 500,000 people in the Toledo area were told to avoid tap water for three days in 2014 because it had been contaminated by an algal toxin called microcystin. But doctors were unable to attribute symptoms to the toxin because there’s no test for it.

UTMC is working with Wayne State University and the Centers for Disease Control to develop a method for making the diagnosis.

Elizabeth Hamelin, a chemist with the CDC, says the effort is only about a year old. She said there is still a lot to learn about microcystin.

“We have no idea of long-term effects,” she said. “We’re at the beginning stage for this right now.”

The threat from microcystin is one reason that experts are urging Congress to continue funding for Great Lakes programs, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National College Sea Grant program.

The latter program helps fund the Ohio Sea Grant, which coordinates much of the Lake Erie algae research.

Harmful algal blooms have been around for decades, but recent years have seen repeated outbreaks in Lake Erie, southern Florida, parts of the northwest, and throughout the world.

Associated Press

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