Periodically, algae in lakes and streams will encounter a food bonanza. Within days, the growth of these one-celled organisms can mushroom into what scientists refer to as a bloom. If those algae make a toxin — a poison — this may make that water unfit to drink. The problem: The algae and their poison can be invisible to the human eye. But not to a new sensor. This new device can detect amazingly small quantities of the algal poison quickly and at low cost.
This means drinking-water officials may be able to warn people of risks before any signs of a sickening bloom become visible. They also can get to work treating the water to remove the poison before it reaches danger levels.
It’s a solution to a very real problem.
Not all algal blooms release toxins. But those that do can endanger human health. Indeed, such toxins made the drinking water supplies for one Ohio community too toxic to drink during part of 2013 and then for another city one year after that. Local officials told people to drink only bottled water for a few days. Events like these show why water-supply systems need to regularly test their water.