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Published July 27, 2010, 01:05 PM

Rains increase phosphorus dumping into Lake Erie

TOLEDO, Ohio — A pollutant that feeds blobs of smelly algae in Lake Erie has been washing down two of the lake’s biggest tributaries in record amounts in the last few months, researchers have found.

By: John Seewer, Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio — A pollutant that feeds blobs of smelly algae in Lake Erie has been washing down two of the lake’s biggest tributaries in record amounts in the last few months, researchers have found.

The huge amount of dissolved phosphorus means that the algae blooms in the lake could become a bigger problem, said Heidelberg University researchers.

Much of the phosphorous that ends up in the lake comes from farm fertilizers that are spread onto farm fields and then washed away by rain. It’s likely that heavy rains in the spring and early summer contributed to the record amounts found in both the Maumee and Sandusky rivers in northwest Ohio, according to the research released Monday by the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg.

Monitors measured 261 tons of it in the Maumee River from April through June — the highest since Heidelberg began monitoring the pollutants 33 years ago. The amount of dissolved phosphorus in the river has been increasing since the mid-1990s.

Dissolved phosphorus levels in the Sandusky River near Fremont were at their second highest rate in 35 years.

David Baker, who oversees the monitoring program, said that the research shows that more must be done to reduce farmland runoff.

“Changes in tillage practices, nutrient management practices, drainage intensity, soil compaction and buffer strips all can alter pollutant runoff,” he said.

Lake Erie has been plagued by algae such as microcystis, a blue-green variety, in recent years. The toxins it produces can cause skin rashes and, for swimmers who ingest them, diarrhea and nausea.

The algae also cause fish kills and create an unsightly scum that chases away tourists.

When the algae dies, it consumes oxygen and creates oxygen-free dead zones in the lakes.

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