September 28, 2008

Critics: Response to Toxic Algae Slow

By The Associated Press

DES MOINES (AP) - Critics are complaining that state environmental officials have done little about an outbreak of toxic algae that threatened the safety of drinking water in Iowa's largest city and posed a risk to swimmers at a west-central Iowa lake.They said the blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, was found at Black Hawk Lake near Lake View, and that levels recorded just after Labor Day were seven times more than an internationally recognized benchmark for safe swimming.The outbreak, which reportedly surfaced in early August and continues, forced theDes Moines Water Works to stop using water from the Raccoon River, which receives water from the Black Hawk Lake when the lake tops an outlet.Experts say the algae can cause rashes, intestinal illnesses and even death.The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is charged with monitoring water quality throughout the state.Agency officials said they believed that the waterworks operation had monitoring under control, and they noted that no one asked them to investigate.Their response has concerned some who complain that state environmental officials have been lax about the outbreak."A half a million people have a right to expect that the water coming through their city is in some reasonable condition," waterworks lab supervisor Christopher Jones wrote in a Sept. 5 e-mail to state water-quality officials and Iowa State University scientists. "Who's accountable for that? " I want it better now, and I want some accountability."DNR officials said the department measures one toxin that the cyanobacteria emit, microcystin, more than most states do. However, they said the state has no official standard to measure other toxins in the algae.

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