Kristin Divris, water utility resilience program coordinator, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Water Resources; and Sarah Wright, senior specialist, environmental laboratories 2015-08-13 10:40:08
Experts predict that climate change-related events (e.g., frequency and duration of rainfall and drought events) may result in conditions that favor an increase in the number of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) in many states across the country, including Massachusetts. Cyanobacteria, and the potential cyanotoxins they can produce, are emerging issues for water utilities due to their potential impact on utility operations and public health. Public health laboratories, and the role they may play in water testing, are likely to have expanding duties with an increasing number of CHAB events. Historically CHABs were documented rarely in Massachusetts, but they have become an evolving issue within the past decade. In 2008, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) developed guidance levels for recreational cyanobacteria exposure and began tracking events in 2009. MDPH guidance levels currently suggest recreational waterbody closure when cyanobacteria cell counts exceed 70,000 cells/milliliter, or microcystin (a cyanotoxin) concentrations exceed 14 parts per billion. Over the past several years, MDPH and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) have responded to approximately 20 to 25 annual waterbody CHABs. MDPH and MassDEP were also notified of several CHABs in surface waters that serve municipal public water systems (PWSs). It is likely that additional CHABs have occurred but have not been reported. In an effort to ameliorate the effects of severe and hazardous weather events, including climate change-related impacts such as CHABs, MassDEP recently developed the Water Utility Resilience Program (WURP). This technical assistance program is designed to help drinking water and wastewater utilities develop or enhance their resilience to these events. In July 2015, MassDEP was scheduled to release guidance (www.mass.gov/DEP) to better prepare for CHAB events. The multi-agency collaborative effort involved multiple MassDEP bureaus and MDPH, and was informed by work done with the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and EPA Region 1. This guidance aligns with preventative strategies recommended by US EPA. Specifically, the guidance helps those PWSs with surface water supplies (reservoirs, ponds and lakes) to assess, monitor for and effectively respond to CHABs. Recommended preventative approaches include source water protection, reservoir management and emergency response planning. The guidance provides: comprehensive information on cyanobacteria including: a description of the most commonly found species in Massachusetts, the causes for cyanobacterial blooms, the cyanotoxins they may produce, their health effects, and the risk these blooms pose to PWS customers a cyanobacteria survey for use as a tool in identifying source vulnerability and amending Emergency Response Plans (ERPs) information on treatment options that may minimize the potential for a cyanobacterial bloom within the reservoir tools to assist PWSs with the identification of cyanobacterial blooms and recommended next steps recommendations on Surface Water Supply Protection Plans, including strategies to manage cyanobacteria populations MassDEP contact information for cyanobacteria questions and additional resource materials Public health laboratories may be involved in: monitoring baseline conditions and bloom precursors cyanobacteria identification and enumeration cyanotoxin analysis Analysis methods are evolving and range between simple screening kits to more sensitive and costly methods that require sophisticated instrumentation. EPA and others are working on validating various methods. EPA also released 10-day drinking water health advisory levels on June 17, 2015 for two cyanotoxins — microcystins and cylindrospermopsin. APHL will publish a fact sheet discussing the current state of the science this year.
Published by Association of Public Health Laboratories. View All Articles.