Muck on Muskingum River is diatom algae bloom

The mystery sheen covering the Muskingum River in both Muskingum and Coshocton counties is a diatom algae bloom, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday.

Diatom blooms do not create harmful toxins like the algae blooms that have threatened Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys.

Heidi Griesmer, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, said she could not say how the bloom got into the river, and she would not allow an EPA scientist to answer questions about how diatom blooms form.

“We don’t want to speculate on the cause,” she said.

Diatoms need nitrogen and phosphorus, the same nutrients that cause harmful algae blooms, said Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory and the Ohio Sea Grant College Program. They also need silica, which naturally occurs in waterways where the soil is made of sandstone or sand.

A resident of Dresden in Muskingum County called emergency-management officials to report what he thought was oil in the river on Sunday evening.

Bo Keck, Muskingum County’s emergency-management director, said that the substance did have a sheen and did look like oil.

Yesterday, crews traveled the river by boat and followed it by car to try to trace the source of the substance, said Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. McCorkle said the bloom apparently is not a threat to wildlife and fish.

Griesmer said the river is not used as a source of public drinking water, but she cautioned against swimming in it.

“We always recommend that if people see a body of water and don’t like what they see, or see something different, if you’re not sure, consider not going in,” she said.


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