News Feature | March 5, 2015

New Approach To Toxic Algae Detection Mimics The Zebra Mussel

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

In the fight to protect drinking water from the effects of blue-green algae, one water utility in Ohio is attempting to learn from the zebra mussel.

The utility is sponsoring a University of Akron biomimicry fellow to study how zebra mussels behave in contaminated water and how these insights might be useful to the water treatment process, reported.

Zebra mussels close their shells when they run across toxins in water. The fellow will also study other creatures that may detect rising toxic algae levels.

The field of biomimicry "seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies," according to the Biomimicry Institute.

As Crain's Cleveland Business put it: "Turns out, fish and other underwater life forms can perform some interesting tricks with water. Given that they've been submerged in it for millions if not billions of years. Avon Lake Regional Water is one of a few local companies trying to take advantage of those skills."

The effort is aided by Lorain County Community College (LCCC) and other academic institutions. LCCC has plans to create a water sensor technology center, and the utility wants to use the lab.

Avon Lake Regional Water "plans to use LCCC's water technology lab to create a sensor that could mimic those capabilities, according to chief utilities executive Todd Danielson. Such a sensor could help the utility get ready for algal blooms like the one that contaminated Toledo's drinking water last summer, forcing the city to issue a drinking water ban that lasted three days," the report continued.

“The economic impacts are huge,” Danielson said, per the report.

During Toledo's water crisis, around 400,000 residents were unable to use their water for over two days due to toxic algae contamination, CNN reported.

Cyanotoxins, which are produced by blue-green algae, are on the EPA's Candidate Contaminant 3 List, which enumerates harmful contaminants for potential regulatory action.

For more, check out Water Online's Source Water Contamination Solution Center.