TOLEDO, Ohio — Toxins possibly from algae on Lake Erie fouled the water supply of the state’s fourth-largest city Saturday, forcing officials to issue warnings not to drink the water and the governor to declare a state of emergency as worried residents descended on stores, quickly clearing shelves of bottled water.
“It looked like Black Friday,” said Aundrea Simmons, who stood in a line of about 50 people at a pharmacy before buying four cases of water. “I have children and elderly parents. They take their medication with water.”
The city advised about 400,000 residents in Toledo, most of its suburbs and a few areas in southeastern Michigan not to brush their teeth with or boil the water because that would only increase the toxin’s concentration. The mayor also warned that children should not shower or bathe in the water and that it shouldn’t be given to pets.
Toledo issued the warning just after midnight after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption.
Gov. John Kasich said it was too early to say how long the advisory will last or what caused toxins to spike suddenly in the drinking water. Officials were waiting on test results on water samples.
“We don’t really want to speculate on this,” he told The Associated Press. “When it comes to this water, we’ve got to be very careful.”
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said it would probably be Sunday morning before all the results are in and officials could consider after that whether to lift the advisory.
The governor and his staff said state agencies were working to bring water and other supplies to areas around Toledo while also assisting hospitals and other affected businesses.
“What’s more important than water? Water’s about life,” Kasich said. “We know it’s difficult. We know it’s frustrating.”
Algal blooms during the summer have become more frequent and troublesome around the western end of Lake Erie, the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.
The algae growth is fed by phosphorus mainly from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants, leaving behind toxins that have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive. The toxins can kill animals and sicken humans.
Scientists had predicted a significant bloom of the blue-green algae this year, but they didn’t expect it to peak until early September.
Kasich’s emergency order issued Saturday allowed the state to begin bringing water into the Toledo area. Large containers were being filled with water at a prison near Columbus and trucked about 130 miles north to Toledo, said Joe Andrews, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.