State Funding Sparks University Research to Solve Lake Erie Harmful Algae Problem

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

University of Toledo researcher Dr. Tom Bridgeman, speaking at an event at the Bowling Green State University Firelands Campus near Sandusky, is the first to acknowledge the importance of $2 million in state funding for toxic algae bloom research.


“The state’s investment has grown exponentially with additional university matching funds, Sea Grant funding, and the human capital of researcher participation, including scores of student research projects,” Bridgeman said during his overview of algae bloom research efforts. Bridgeman presented preliminary results of research efforts during one of several events in and around Sandusky as part of Governor John Kasich’s State of the State Address April 4.


The Great Lakes water system represents the largest single source of fresh water in the world. According to Bridgeman, the algae blooms that have affected drinking water in Sandusky Bay have a multitude of potential causes, including agricultural practices and municipal water plant operations. The common problem? Excess nitrogen and phosphorous create favorable conditions for algae growth that produces toxins that affect human liver function and choke freshwater ecosystems and wildlife. Bridgeman said that the potential harm to freshwater is not limited to the Great Lakes; traces of micro toxins from Sandusky Bay have been found downstream in the Mississippi River.


Bridgeman said the collaborative research that began in 2015 at the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and others has already yielded results, but efforts need to continue.


“Because there is no single cause, and the potential impact to the region is so great, there is no issue more significant than the protection of fresh water sources,” Bridgeman said.


bgsuL to R Elizabeth Crowther, Dr. W. Robert Midden, Adam Ellington, Nick Bischoff

Student research at the participating universities has also been brought to bear, and a dozen student projects were showcased at the Firelands event. One, led by students supervised by Dr. W. Robert Midden, director and associate vice provost for experiential and innovative learning at BGSU, is emblematic of the student research projects.

Three BGSU undergraduate students majoring in chemistry presented their project, which measures the yield of phosphorus and nitrogen runoff from liquid manure that’s been made into a solid product through coagulation into a usable precipitate. Their research may yield a product that is applied as a solid, as opposed to liquid material, so the nutrients are released gradually and with less runoff into the water system. Today, application of liquid fertilizer from manure ponds is common practice. Nutrients from the liquid quickly enter the water system when rain washes it from fields.


The early findings are promising from an environmental standpoint, and could result in production of commercially valuable agricultural products, the use of which could reduce the adverse environmental impact of using manure as fertilizer.