Researcher at UT gets grant to study algal toxin filtration

[USA] A University of Toledo researcher has received a $224,937 grant to help make filters at conventional water-treatment plants, including Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, operate more efficiently at removing algal toxins by better understanding how bacteria works.

Youngwoo Seo, UT associate professor of civil engineering and chemical & environmental engineering, told The Blade that while his three-year project funded through the National Science Foundation will have a strong focus on Toledo’s water plant, it will also incorporate research from plants in Monroe, Bowling Green, and Oregon. The four provide most of the municipal drinking water in the western Lake Erie watershed.

On a parallel path, Mr. Seo said he will attempt to learn more from laboratory research how bacteria forms filmy substances known as biofilm that helps remove organic matter as partially treated water is pushed through filters.

Several European plants are much farther along in that technology than the United States, according to Mr. Seo, who said any plans to inject bacteria into area water plants are in the future and subject to years of review. But through his microbiological research, he hopes to gain a better understanding how that technology works, he said.

“My study is on understanding bacteria,” Mr. Seo said. “There is always biofilm growing in the filter media.”

The grant is soon to be announced by the office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

Miss Kaptur told The Blade she is excited about the award because the project could help raise western Lake Erie’s profile nationally while also generating research that could also serve as more help in the region’s war against algae.

With Earth’s temperature warming and more regions battling algae, such homegrown research could be embraced in other parts of North America and the world in the future, she said.

“I’ve been encouraging people to look at water treatment as a growth industry for us,” Miss Kaptur said. “We can create new applications for our plant and others.”

Mr. Seo said his work at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant will be done in tandem with the installation of that facility’s new ozone technology, the cornerstone of the modernization project that is costing more than $300 million.

Miss Kaptur said there “could not be a more timely and more important research project to award than this.”

“Lake Erie is under constant threat of toxic algal blooms, and we need to find a more sustainable way to treat the water,” she said.

The National Science Foundation said it is funding the project because it sees promise in biological filtration systems, but agrees they are not well understood.

Ohio Sea Grant today is hosting an all-day conference about western Lake Erie algae at the Stranahan Theater & Great Hall, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., Toledo.

In its latest weekly update, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this summer’s microcystis bloom continues, although strong winds last Sunday resulted in strong mixing. That reduced surface concentration to below-detectable levels in most areas except Maumee Bay, NOAA said.

Microcystis has been the dominant form of western Lake Erie toxic blue-green algae since 1995.

It produces the potentially lethal toxin, microcystin.

Microcystis and other forms of blue-green algae are actually a form of bacteria themselves. Scientists call them cyanobacteria.

NOAA said low to moderate concentration patches are likely forming away from the shoreline, with small patches of scum possible in and to the north of Maumee Bay. A persistent bloom continues in Sandusky Bay, NOAA said.

Sandusky Bay’s most dominant cyanobacteria is usually planktothrix, which — while genetically different than microcystis — produces the same toxin, microcystin.


Photo: Water slowly filters in pools inside the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in East Toledo. Researcher Youngwoo Seo is trying to improve the efficiency of the plant’s filtration units.

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