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Imagine turning on your faucet for a glass of water only to find out that the water wasn’t suitable for drinking. This sounds like a scenario from the past or in some far off country and not on our doorsteps, but it is happening right here in America. A new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that there is a growing epidemic of toxic algal blooms that are polluting lakes and other waterways, and these are making our water unfit for human consumption.

Back in 2014, Toledo’s city water supply was compromised when a massive algal bloom blanketed Lake Erie making tap water unsafe to drink. “Toledo was a wake-up call for many people,” said Craig Cox, EWG’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “It was the first major city to declare its water supply unsafe for human consumption due to a toxic algal bloom. But many more Americans are experiencing the damage these blooms can wreak — and the problem is getting worse.”

Toledo isn’t a solitary case. 169 toxic blooms were reported in 40 states in 2017 and in March this year, Ohio Governor John Kasich declared the open waters of western Lake Erie “impaired for recreation.” This is a never-before-seen designation that will require the development and enforcement of plans to reduce toxic blooms caused by fertilizer under the Clean Water Act.

So what is a toxic algal bloom? Put simply, it is a rapid increase in the population of algae in an aquatic system. These are typically caused when runoff from farms and other industries get into the water system leading to an excess of nutrients that enable the algae to grow out of control. As these algal blooms grow, they not only lead to a toxic layer of green scum on water, but they can lead to the formation of dead zones, or areas where there is no oxygen in the water. Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae as it is also known, is usually the main culprit in these toxic algal blooms.

What can we do about these toxic blooms?

One of the biggest culprits contributing to toxic algal blooms is run-off from agricultural fields and cow pastures, getting into large bodies of water near urban areas. We can talk about not polluting our local water supplies, but that’s pretty much a given. A longer-term impact can be made by reducing our meat and dairy intake. This isn’t an overnight solution, but if the demand for meat and dairy products is vastly reduced then we will not need the number of agricultural fields, cow pastures, and so on, that are to blame for so many of the algal blooms we are currently seeing.

It might seem like a small token to change our diets, but if everyone was to do their part we can heal our broken food system, give our planet time to heal, and pave the way for a sustainable world for future generations.

To learn more about how plant-based food can help heal the planet, check out the #EatForThePlanet book.


Image Source: Michael Podger/Unsplash

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