Laboratory opens on Main Campus for detecting algae blooms

September 13, 2017

The University of Toledo opened a new laboratory Sept. 5 to test drinking water for toxins in North Engineering[I1]  on Main Campus.


Associate professor of civil engineering Youngwoo Seo and research professor and director of CMSC Polymer

Institute Joseph Lawrence wrote the proposal for the laboratory.


The drinking water research lab will allow researchers to support water utilities in Ohio to prevent future water crises by detecting new and emerging algal blooms, Seo wrote in an email interview.


A $500,000 grant received from the Ohio Community Capital Program provided the renovations for the laboratory and technology, including two major instruments and other equipment necessary for water analysis, wrote Seo.


One of the instruments going to be used for testing is the liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry,


Lawrence said. This will be able to detect 50 to 100 times lower concentration of cyanotoxins in water, compared to the one part per billion threshold concentration with earlier techniques.


The other main instrument that will be used is the flow cytometer, which detects assimilable organic carbon that can feed bacteria for regrowth in treated water, wrote Seo.


“During the 2014 Toledo water crisis event, the Toledo water treatment plant used an enzyme- based assay system for cyanotoxin screening,” wrote Seo. “It is effective to screen to detect the presence of microcystins.”


However, the enzyme-based assay system “only determines the total microcystin concentration” and cannot determine other types of the microcystin toxin such as the most toxic microcystin found in water – microcystin-LR, Seo wrote.


According to Seo, samples with oxidation byproducts or background organic matter can trigger a false positive in the assay kits. This was a problem during the 2014 water crisis.


“So, we had to send water samples to the U.S. EPA national research lab or to other cyanotoxin-testing labs in Michigan to determine the definitive amount of microsystins,” Seo wrote.


Due to high costs and the analysis takes, many water utilities have difficulties in analyzing assimilable organic carbon in samples, wrote Seo.


“[Water utilities] will now have access to the lab on a regular basis for monitoring AOC in treater water, as well as samples from different points in the treatment process,” Seo wrote.


Local municipalities will be able to come and have samples tested with treated water.


“After the 2014 water crisis, we wanted a localized lab to do the high level of testing” Lawrence said.


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