Statement of Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae Bloom by Alafia Foundation


Author: Raven Wright, Board Member Alafia Foundation

  Geology Major, Wayne State University

  1. Alafia Foundation of Hope International LLC, Statement of Toxic Cyanobacteria found in Lake Erie, 613 Abbott Street, Detroit, MI, 48226, USA




    The toxic algae bloom has infected the western part of Lake Erie; the toxicity of this bloom has spread across the North Western section of Ohio and even the South Eastern section of Michigan. A cyanobacterium is responsible for 400,000 residents being unable to use their water two weeks ago. Cyanobacteria are aquatic and photosynthetic; this bacterium can also manufacture their own food. This species of bacteria are unicellular, small in size and have the ability to grow in large colonies. In this report we will observe and analyze the water problem that has infected the western section of Lake Erie, also mycrocystin which is produced by cyanobacteria will also be observed.



    Ohio residents two weeks ago experienced four days without water usage. Cyanobacteria are responsible to for the damage. The spreading of this bacterium was so severe that Ohio was in a state of emergency, according to environmental scientists “the algae and bacteria responsible for blooms, including the one that created Toledo’s tap water mess—a type of bacteria known as Microcystis—need warm temperatures and the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen to grow” (Lee 2014). Microcystin is commonly referred to as a blue-green algae that is colonial, single cells of the algae can produce hundreds of cells. Microcystin commonly forms in nutrient enriched fresh waters and lower salinity estuaries, this type of algae usually bloom in the mid to late summer season. The microcystin that was found in Toledo’s water system can cause health problems such as vomiting, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea and numbness.



    The North American Great lakes provide drinking water to more than 22 million people. Outbreaks of microcystin have reached levels as high as 20 micrograms in the Great Lakes. “Microcystins (MCs) are a group of at least 80 variants based on a cyclic heptapeptide structure. All toxic microcystin structural variants contain a unique hydrophobic amino acid, 3-amino-9-methoxy-10-phenyl2,6,8-trimethyl-deca-4(E),6(E)-dienoic acid (ADDA)” (Back 2008). Figure 1 below displays the general structure of microcystin.

Figure 1.  General Structure of Microcystin

Chorus, I. and Bartram, J. (1999) Toxic Cyanobacteria in Water: a Guide to Public Health Significance, Monitoring and Management. E & FN Spon /Chapman & Hall, London, 416 pp.


Microcystins are synthesized and are mostly retained in the living cyanobacterial cells. After senescence and cell lysis they are released into the surrounding water. Due to their chemical stability microcystins can persist in the water for several days or weeks after the breakdown of the cyanobacterial bloom. Most Microcystins are water soluble and can not penetrate lipid membranes of humans, animals and plants. Microcystins have been implicated in poisonings of humans and animals. After oral uptake microcystins are transported, particularly through bile acid-type transporters, from the ileum into the bloodstream and finally are concentrated in the liver as a result of active uptake by hepatocytes. Microcystins are primarily hepatotoxins.  Acute exposure to microcystin causes severe liver damage. Characteristic features are a disruption of liver cell structure (due to damage to the cytoskeleton), a loss of sinusoidal structure, increase in liver weight due to intrahepatic haemorrhage, haemodynamic shock, heart failure and death. Other organs affected by microcystins are kidneys, intestines and lungs.”  (Bartram 1999).


Cynaobacteria negatively impacting Northwest Ohio’s water supply

    Impacts of blooms have a direct effect on fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic fauna. Indirect effects are the reduction of submerged plants. It is important to recognize that conditions associated with blooms and toxins may lead to reduced competition or predation on the taxa forming the blooms. This positive feedback stimulates further development of the bloom until environmental conditions become unfavorable (e.g., multiple cloudy days, intense rainfall, dramatically increased flushing rate, or input of turbid or stained water) and the bloom collapses. Feedback loops add further complexity to prediction of bloom dynamics and ecological effects.  When cyanobacterial blooms occur, irradiance is reduced in the water column, reducing the growth of producers that cannot maintain a position near the surface of the water, including epiphyton, benthic algae and rooted vascular plants. Thus, lakes with very dense blooms, especially if they are frequent or long– lasting, may not support large populations of other producers. In shallow eutrophic lakes, research has shown that the transition from plant to phytoplankton dominance can occur rapidly (Back 2008).



    In conclusion, microcystin can cause major health problems to humans and animals. Algae bloom can cause a direct effect on ecosystems. Cyanobacteria and microsystin has been an ongoing problem in the Great Lakes. The “water disaster” that occurred in Northwest Ohio is an example of how an algae bloom can cause great toxicity and damage to the water supply. Solutions such as testing for high or low levels of microcystin once an algae bloom is detected need to be executed immediately.




  1.            Back, Nathan Lajtha, Abel Paoletti, Rodoflo. 2008: Cyanobacteria Harmful Algal Blooms. Toxin Types, toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics 383-384
  2. Chorus, I. and Bartram, J. (1999) Toxic Cyanobacteria in Water: a  Guide to Public Health Significance, Monitoring and Management. E & FN Spon /Chapman & Hall, London, 416 pp. 
  3.         Lee. 2014: Driven by climate change, algae blooms behind Ohio water      scare are new normal. National Geographic daily news.