Should The U.S. Get An Algae Czar?

The U.S. may get an algae czar.

The algae problem in U.S. waterways has gotten so worrisome that lawmakers are agitating for a federal position focused on the fight against algae.

In late April, Ohio Reps. Marcy Kaptur, David Joyce and Tim Ryan introduced bipartisan legislation calling on the EPA to “appoint a coordinator in the battle against Great Lakes’ pollution and harmful algal blooms (HABs),” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Kaptur—a lawmaker from Toledo, where algae contamination sparked a water crisis last year—called for increased spending on algae research.

“Assigning a point person not only ensures EPA takes responsibility for our federal algal bloom response, it creates accountability. This is especially important as we move into another algal bloom season and ramp up investments in algal bloom research, tracking and prevention initiatives,” she said, per a statement.

Toledo underwent a ban on water use last August when algae toxins endangered the water supply. The crisis renewed policy efforts to attack the problem.

Outside of Washington, scientists are also seeking solutions to the algae problem. Phosphorus recovery is one promising avenues of research, since the nutrient feeds the algae problem. “Accumulation of phosphorus can result in problems like algae blooms in lakes and other surface water bodies. In turn, algae blooms deplete oxygen from the water, affecting the delicate balance of aquatic life,” according to the American Society of Agronomy.

The two prevailing ways to recover phosphorus are chemical and biological. “In the chemical method, wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) treat phosphorus dissolved in wastewater. The phosphorus then falls out of solution for easier removal. In the biological method, bacteria introduced into the water collect the phosphorus into removable sludge. A variation includes enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR). This method selectively encourages bacteria that can accumulate phosphorus,” the society said.

New research claims to have uncovered a way to reduce costs and improve effectiveness of phosphorus recovery at WWTPs. The results were published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, a publication of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America.

In the study, researchers attempted to combine the chemical and biological approaches. “Considering all aspects of the recovery process with respect to environmental, economic, and social implications, the technique is concluded to represent a cost-attractive and sustainable method for P management in US WWTPs,” the study said.

In the experiment, the combination approach proved viable. “Conventional methods remove only 40 to 50% of P. The secondary treatment of sludge employed [in the study] achieves an additional 35% mass reduction, for a total of about 90% removal. [This method] helpfully avoids additional chemicals and reduces sludge production. Both these factors lower the cost of operation—a key consideration for WWTPs with limited budgets,” according to the society.


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