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brConditions are Ripe for Record Toxic Algae Bloom In Lake Erie The Toxin It Produces Could Make Its Way Into Buffalo Drinking Water; Local Water Treatment Plants Need Federal Direction on How to Protect Public From This Growing ThreatbrbrbrSchumer Urges EPA To Provide Direction on How To Test Filter Toxin in Drinking Water, Something the EU Canada Have Already Done Also Urges USDA To Do More To Help Prevent Algae Growth in Great Lakes By Making Region A Critical Conservation AreabrbrbrSchum

Today, at the Erie Basin Marina in Buffalo, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to act quickly to curb the threat that toxic algae in Lake Erie is posing to Western New York drinking water. Schumer explained that conditions are ripe for a record algae bloom in Lake Erie and that the toxins that this algae produces, cyanotoxins, have the potential to contaminate local drinking water because local water treatment plants do not have direction about how to test for the presence of cyanotoxins or how to filter them out. Schumer noted that cyanotoxins have been listed on the EPA's list of potential contaminants to regulate since 2009, but since it still has not been added to the official contaminant list, the EPA has not provided the direction that local water treatment plants need to effectively prevent cyanotoxins from entering drinking water. Schumer explained that over a dozen countries including Canada currently test drinking water for cyanotoxins, but to date the EPA has not issued guidance on testing in the United States. Therefore, Schumer urged the EPA to regulate cyanotoxins and provide guidance to local water treatment plants. Schumer also urged the USDA to designate the Great Lakes as a Critical Conservation Area, a new designation authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, which would give farmers dedicated funding and assistance to help prevent the runoff that is one of the causes of the algae growth.


"Lake Erie is one of Western New York's greatest resources: for tourism, recreation, and for healthy drinking water. But toxic algae blooms threaten to greatly undercut the value of this resource, and what's more, have the potential to contaminate our drinking water," said  Senator Schumer. "So I'm announcing a twopronged plan to cut right to the heart of the problem. First, the EPA should issue guidance and recommendations to local water treatment plans on how best to test for and treat these cyanotoxins. Second, the USDA should designate the Great Lakes a Critical Conservation Area, so local farmers can access funds to help mitigate the phosphorous runoff from their farms which is one part of the cause of the algae problem."


Schumer continued, "With these two steps - one to address the underlying cause and another to treat and manage the existing problem - we can safeguard our drinking water and ensure that Lake Erie remains a draw for tourists, a hub for the local economy, and a great source for a nice glass of water."


Senator Schumer was joined by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka, Deputy County Executive Rich Tobe, Erie County Commissioner of Environment & Planning Maria Whyte, representatives from the Erie County Health Department, and representatives from the NYS Farm Bureau.


"As a city and a region, the health of Lake Erie is critically important," said  Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. "A healthy Lake helps to move our economy by drawing more people and more recreation to our many great waterways. I'm proud of my administration's efforts to help further improve the waterquality in Buffalo and thank Senator Schumer for calling on the EPA and USDA to act on this particular issue so that city residents and visitors can prepare and protect themselves from potential contaminants, including algae bloom and the toxin it produces."

"The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning and I have been monitoring this issue over the past couple of summers with great concern as it has negatively impacted communities in Ohio and the western basin of Lake Erie, shutting down public water supplies and greatly impacting the use of this magnificent resource," said  County Executive Mark Poloncarz. " I commend Senator Schumer for his initiative to establish a Great lakes region wide attack on these toxins by reducing the sources of nutrients that feed their growth, which in turn will prevent this threat from growing to the point where it could potentially devastate the ecosystem of Lake Erie."

"The health of the Great Lakes directly affects the health of the Western New York community and our blue economy," said  Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.  "New York State's Great Lakes coastal communities are downstream of significant sources of phosphorus loadings, and combined with the uncertainty of climate change impacts on the lakes, we can not predict when or how algal blooms will affect our communities.  We strongly support Senator Schumer in this proactive effort to protect the drinking water of millions of New York State residents and to put forth solutions that immediately address the known threat and sources of toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie."


"Thanks to the advocacy of Senator Schumer, and other members of our federal delegation, the 2014 Farm Bill created a Critical Conservation Area program that will allow local farmers to tap into desperately needed federal funding," said  Tim Bigham, NY Farm Bureau's Region 1 Field Representative. " The NY Farm Bureau is proud to join Senator Schumer in advocating that the Great Lakes be named one of the Country's first Critical Conservation Areas freeing up more funding to help improve the overall health of our regional watershed." 


Due to a number of factors, including runoff from nearby agricultural areas and aging sewer systems, the amount of phosphorus in Lake Erie has increased in recent years, causing large algal blooms to grow in the water. These blooms produce cyanotoxins, which form as the algal blooms rob oxygen from the water. In incidents reported throughout the U.S., water contamination caused by cyanotoxins has resulted in illness, beach closures, and animal deaths. Although the hazards associated with cyanotoxins are apparent, the toxin's prevalence in drinking water has not been regulated by the EPA's, it has only been listed as a potential contaminant. Without this official designation, the EPA has not released guidelines or assistance for how local water treatment plants can prevent cyanotoxins from entering drinking water.


The cyanotoxins include neurotoxins (affect the nervous system), hepatotoxins (affect the liver), and dermatoxins (affect the skin). The presence of high levels of cyanotoxins in recreational water and drinking water may cause a wide range of symptoms including fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain, blisters, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, mouth ulcers, and allergic reactions. Such effects can occur within minutes to days after exposure. In severe cases, seizures, liver failure, respiratory arrest, and, although very rarely, death may occur. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported on three instances in which a total of six people suffered rashes, sores, swelling, eye irritation and congestion after exposure to algal toxins in New York lakes. In addition, in 2009 Wisconsin had over 57 algae bloom related illnesses, and in the late 90s over 75 people died of liver failure in Brazil after drinking water contaminated with cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxin contaminated water also impacts animals claiming the lives of hundreds of animals, including elk and cows, across the country in recent years.


As reported in  the Buffalo News, New York leads a nationwide list for reports of toxic bluegreen algae, according to a report by the National Wildlife Federation. Schumer explained that without immediate and substantive action, Lake Erie would likely suffer from fish and wildlife deaths and beach closures that harm the local economy. And, down the line, if nothing is done to curb the spread of this toxic algae, it could end up affecting drinking water. Therefore, Schumer is launching a twopronged plan to address the growing problem of algae blooms and cyanotoxins in Lake Erie.


First, he is pressing the EPA to assist and direct local water treatment plants on how to more effectively filter water to avoid the presence of cyanotoxins; specifically the three types of toxins described above. This would require the EPA to label cyanotoxins as an official contaminant. Local water treatment plants should receive guidance on how to test for and treat cyanotoxins in the water supply, to mitigate the potential for contaminated drinking water, Schumer said. The EPA has issued such guidelines for other official contaminants like arsenic and lead.


Schumer is also urging the USDA to designate the Great Lakes as a Critical Conservation Area (CCA), which would give farmers access to a designated pot of conservation funds from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) they could tap into to mitigate the phosphorous runoff from their farms. Schumer explained that with the changing climate, and extreme weather events like the Polar Vortex, the phosphorous runoff from farms has been particularly problematic. The prolonged freeze and quick warming caused faster melting and runoff from area farms into Lake Erie, which has fueled the algae blooms.

Producers and landowners of agricultural lands under the RCPP would be able to enter into conservation contracts and easements in a designated critical conservation area. Assistance will be available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Conservation Steward Program (CSP), and Healthy Forest Reserve Program (HFRP). Schumer explained that the RCPP program will make over $200 million available annually and that 35% of the RCPP funds would be dedicated for just projects in critical conservation areas, which could go a long way to help farms in the Great Lakes region find ways to reduce the amount of harmful runoff.


Copies of Senator Schumer's letters to the EPA and to the USDA are available upon request.