Poisonous blob nears Lake Erie water table

By: Azl Saeed ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of cleveland.com | A toxic bubble containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from before the 1970s has started to move closer to the water intake pipeline of Lake Erie

While access to safe drinking water is a leading issue around the globe, it is often taken for granted in developed nations like the United States.

However, this sense of security has recently been threatened because of toxic findings in Lake Erie, a water source for approximately 1 million Americans in the greater Cleveland area, including Cuyahoga and Medina Counties.

The toxicity originates from a poisonous blob of sediment at the bottom of Lake Erie that dates back before 1970.

It has been on the move since then and has recently become a topic of interest because it has migrated alarmingly close to an intake pipe that supplies drinking water for the city of Cleveland.

The importance of the blob has increased with media attention as it moves closer and closer to the intake pipeline.

Like many environmental issues across the board, the sediment deposit in Lake Erie is man made. Before the 1972 Clean Water Act, basically anything was fair game to dump in lakes and rivers. During that time, untreated poisonous material from the Cuyahoga River shipping channel was dredged and deposited into the lake. Since the material consisted of various chemical substances that do not decompose, the two square mile blob has survived.

When tested, the blob contained high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a family of chemicals that are now banned because of the serious health risks they pose.

Studies of these PCBs have found a correlation to increased rates of various cancers in humans, including liver, gastrointestinal, brain and breast cancer. They have also been linked to pregnancy problems and various hormone imbalances.

Furthermore, the chemicals have been shown to be fatal to the aquatic organisms at the bottom of the food chain. As a result, the larger fish are affected, meaning that the entire ecosystem is eventually disrupted.

Officials have stated that there are adequate resources to fully treat any potentially toxic water that may enter the pipes. However, this is not a long-term solution to the problem, since the deposit will not disappear on its own.

There is great debate between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over what to do with the material.

The EPA claims that the matter is urgent and should be taken care of immediately by the Army Corps, since that organization are responsible for the waste being there in the first place. On the other hand, the Army Corps denies that the threat is as serious as the EPA claims and that it is ultimately the EPA’s responsibility to clean it up.

While the EPA and Army Corps have been arguing over who bears the responsibility of the blob, the entire ecosystem of Lake Erie has suffered while it moves throughout the lake.

The toxins have been affecting aquatic organisms for more than 40 years, but were not a topic of concern until they directly threatened the water table and potential human health.

Water in the Cleveland area has also come under scrunitny when chromium-6, a toxic chemical, was found in several water ways.

All six of Cuyahoga County water systems, Cleveland, Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, Berea, Bedford and Chagrin Falls, were tested for the chemical. Forty seven of the 52 samples tested positive for chromium-6.

The movement of the toxic blob and chromium-6 in the water systems has caught the attention of Ohio representatives. Senator Sherrod Brown and Senator Rob Portman are drafting provisions to protect the lake by working with the USACE to rid the lake of the blob.