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EPA Admits Ohio Failed to Evaluate Open Waters of Lake Erie
ELPC warns EPA’s reluctance to designate all of Lake Erie impaired endangers drinking water for Ohioans & imperils the environment
Toledo, OH – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted late Friday that it does not believe Ohio EPA fully evaluated pollution in Lake Erie in response to a lawsuit by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and co-plaintiffs Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), Susan Matz, and Michael Ferner, that was filed in July. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo, seeks a designation of the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act because periodic harmful algal blooms are preventing those waters from meeting basic state water quality standards.
U.S. EPA’s response to the complaint expressly admits that Ohio EPA did not assess whether these algal blooms are impairing the open waters of Lake Erie, despite the existence of information that the state could have evaluated to determine the status of the open waters. This is a central allegation by the plaintiffs in their argument that U.S. EPA should have rejected Ohio’s decision not to designate the open waters of the Lake’s western basin as impaired.
“EPA’s response shows that Ohio has no excuse for its failure to recognize the full scope of the effects of harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie,” said Madeline Fleisher, an ELPC senior attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “EPA’s acceptance of Ohio’s decision despite this lapse exemplifies the agency’s unwillingness to take aggressive action to address this problem in Ohio and the Lake Erie region. We expect better from the agencies that are supposed to be leading the way on protecting people and the environment.”
“The Clean Water Act is still the law of the land and we intend to make the EPA do its job to protect our environment, our health and Toledo’s drinking water,” said Mike Ferner, ACLE coordinator.
Algal blooms can produce toxins that make people and pets seriously ill when ingested, and can also harm aquatic species by poisoning water or using up oxygen to create “dead zones” in the lake. The algal blooms are caused by phosphorus pollution that primarily comes from manure and fertilizer running off of agricultural land.
“Without the impairment designation, Ohio is likely to continue relying on unenforceable, voluntary measures to reduce phosphorus pollution that won’t do enough to fix the problem,” said Fleisher