Shame on you, Ohio State Parks.

Every year, people visit Maumee Bay State Park because it “offers 1,336 acres of not only the finest of recreational facilities in the Midwest, but also a unique natural environment created by the convergence of the land and Lake Erie.” (source here).

Image from Ohio State Parks Maumee Bay website

In fact, my friends and I are supposed to go this weekend to go camping. A couple of days ago, one of my friends found this warning on park website:

Image from Ohio State Parks Maumee Bay website

I’m a biological scientist by academic training, so I decided to dig a little bit further. You’d be surprised what I found (from the Ohio EPA website):

Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms found naturally in surface water that can sometimes multiply to form harmful algal blooms (HABs). HABs can potentially produce toxins capable of causing illness or irritation, sometimes even death, in pets, livestock and humans.
Large microscopic view of cyanobacteria. Image credit

The Ohio EPA has been measuring these cyanobacteria since 2011 and has even included this data on their website.

If you look at the data, you’ll find that that there have been many instances of extremely high levels (> 20 micrograms/L) of microcystin in the raw water samples from the Lake Erie, Maumee Bay State Park Beach location.

110 ppb! That’s 110 micrograms/Liter! Screen capture of the PDF linked above, from Ohio EPA cyanobacteria measurements document.

For perspective, the Ohio guidelines for recreational exposure (swimming, wading) are PHA: 6 micrograms/L; NCA: 20 micrograms/L, according to the US EPA.

PHA = Public Health Advisory — swimming and wading are not recommended, water should not be swallowed and surface scum should be avoided.

NCA = No Contact Advisory — recommend the public avoid all contact with the water. US EPA exposure guidelines are here.

Let me spell it out:

  1. On 7/23/2014, Ohio State Parks warned on the bottom of their webpage that “High levels of algal toxins have been detected at the Lake Erie beach. Swimming and wading are not recommended for the very old, the very young and those with compromised immune systems.”
  2. The Ohio EPA then generated data in August 2014 that says that there are extremely harmful levels (according to US EPA guidelines) of microcystin in the Maumee Bay State Park Beach.
  3. The data collection happened after the Ohio State Parks issued their first warning, so they were aware of the problem with the cyanobacteria.
  4. Despite the Ohio EPA having this data, Ohio State Parks have not warned people to keep away from the water (this should also include fishing), but instead only warned people who are “very old, very young, or those with compromised immune systems.”

The Ohio State Parks had the opportunity to warn people not to go in the water, but have not escalated the warning.

Clearly, Ohio State Parks needs to step up their game with warning tourists, because many still do not know the risk of getting in the water:

Source: TripAdvisor

I am a fan of the state of Ohio and its lovely parks, but I also believe in transparency and not putting people at unnecessary health risks.

Shame on you, Ohio State Parks, for not being transparent about the health risks of the water at Maumee Bay State Park and needlessly endangering the lives of families and children.

Even with variability in the testing results, the high amounts of microcystin should have been enough to escalate the warning against entering or fishing in the water.

Call for Action

There are still a few weeks of summer left: Please, Ohio State Parks, revise the warning so people are aware of the risks they take with entering the water, especially since it hasn’t been tested in 9 months.

I applaud the efforts of the Ohio EPA being more transparent about the risks, as well as increasing the amount of funding for cyanotoxin testing and recently extending the application deadline for grant proposals.

My friends and I will still be going camping at Maumee Bay State Park this weekend, but we certainly won’t be getting in the water.

You and your kids shouldn’t either.

Other Interesting Facts

  • Lake Erie generates about $1.4 billion in fishing and recreational activities (source: here). I didn’t research warnings against fishing in the area, but I didn’t see any on the Maumee Bay State Park website.
  • Sampling of cyanobacteria at Maumee Bay State Park occurred with fairly regular frequency (roughly every few weeks, according to the Ohio EPA’s PDF), but stopped in October of 2014.
  • The water at Maumee Bay State Park has not been tested since October 2014, yet the warning has not been escalated for people to stay out of the water. (PDF source, Ohio EPA)
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