Target: Laura Factor, Assistant Director of Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency
Goal: Save Lake Erie from toxic algae blooms that render the water poisonous to humans and animals
Lake Erie’s ecosystem is in danger of collapsing in the coming years. Due to a multitude of conditions, toxic algal blooms called microcystis are flourishing throughout much of the lake’s waters along the Ohio border. Microcystis renders the water poisonous to humans and animals, creating a huge health and environmental concern. It also kills everything in its vicinity while sucking oxygen from the water. Before it becomes too late, efforts must be made to prevent the spread of this toxic algae.
Microcystis has spread before, with one of the worst cases to date occurring in the summer of 2011, when it covered thousands of square miles of the western part of Lake Erie. And due to global warming, the conditions are only projected to become worse. Changes in the ecosystem, such as dying beaches and an increase in species who eat beneficial algae, like zebra mussels, contribute to the growth of toxic algae, as does the runoff of fertilizer containing phosphorous from nearby farms. Furthermore, because of global warming, the lake’s winter ice sheet is thinner, leaving more room evaporation, which will contribute to longer flourishes of microcystis each year.
The effects of this toxic algae are alarming. For birds, fish, and other animals, such as our pets, the water is lethal. For humans, microcystis causes severe damage to the liver, and can cause neurological problems and skin damage. Although none have died from toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, there have been deaths reported from similar exposure in other parts of the world.
While the driving force behind this environmental problem seems to be climate change, there are immediate actions that can be taken by local farmers. By reducing fertilizer use by forty percent, and adopting techniques that will prevent its runoff into the lake, they could chip away at the abundance of phosphorous that the algae needs to spread. However, there are no official guidelines in place to be enforced. Help save Lake Erie’s ecosystem by creating those guidelines and initiating change.
Dear Assistant Director Factor,
As you are aware, Lake Erie’s ecosystem is in steady decline with the influx of toxic algae blooms, specifically microcystis. The growth of this poisonous plant originates in the lake’s western waters and flows eastward, affecting all of Lake Erie’s surrounding states. Microcystis is lethal to animals and extremely dangerous to humans. We must stop the toxin from killing the entire lake.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding has been cut in recent years, there are still measures that can be taken to reduce microcystis in the waters of Lake Erie. For instance, farmers could reduce phosphorous levels in the water by reducing the amount of soil they use. Furthermore, they can adopt practices that reduce the runoff of their fertilizer into the water, such as not applying fertilizer before rainfall or on frozen ground. Currently, there are no guidelines in place for such practices. Phosphorous reduction is purely voluntary. By initiating guidelines, we could effectively reduce the phosphorous content in the water, thereby taking away a vital component of the toxic algae’s survival.
While there are many causes for the spread of microcystis in Lake Erie, some can provide immediate relief to the problem. Global warming is attributed to much of the change in the lake’s ecosystem, and that problem is being addressed at a much slower pace. Perhaps for now we can initiate change by creating awareness of the problem and solidifying some guidelines for phosphorous-infused fertilizer runoff from local farms. Help save Lake Erie’s ecosystem, as well as the health of the humans and animals around it.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory via Wikimedia Commons