Windsor re­searchers to study ways to re­duce phos­pho­rus in Lake Erie

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE -

WINDSOR — The roots of tomato plants, iron fil­ings and saw­dust are the new­est weapons in the fight against toxic al­gae blobs in Lake Erie.

Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Windsor will test how well those ma­te­ri­als can be used to fil­ter out phos­pho­rus, a key con­trib­u­tor to al­gae blooms, from en­ter­ing the lake in a pi­lot project at a wet­lands near Leam­ing­ton.

The project — one of a num­ber of South­west­ern On­tario mea­sures to re­duce phos­pho­rus in wa­ter­ways that drain into Erie — is be­ing funded by a $50,000 grant from the univer­sity’s alumni as­so­ci­a­tion.

A com­mon in­gre­di­ent in fer­til­izer, and found in an­i­mal and hu­man waste, phos­pho­rus washes into the re­gion’s wa­ter­ways across its vast farm belt, in­clud­ing from heavy rains that can over­whelm sewage treat­ment plants, fu­elling al­gae growth.

The nu­tri­ent biofil­ter test­ing at Lebo Creek Re­search Wet­lands near Leam­ing­ton and a sep­a­rate devel­op­ment of an out­door class­room at Hol­i­day Beach Con­ser­va­tion Area were made pos­si­ble by the $50,000 grant. “This is a cel­e­bra­tion of an im­por­tant com­mu­nity part­ner­ship be­tween the fac­ulty of sci­ence, the Univer­sity of Windsor and the Es­sex Re­gion Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion,” said Dou­glas Kneale, the univer­sity’s in­terim pres­i­dent.

Three biofil­ters have been in­stalled at the wet­lands with the goal to de­ter­mine which ma­te­rial best fil­ters and re­moves phos­phate from the wet­lands’ wa­ter be­fore it drains into rivers and lakes, said Bu­lent Mu­tus, a Windsor pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in chem­istry and bio­chem­istry.

“Every­body knows about al­gal blooms (on Lake Erie),” Mu­tus said.

“Is it farms (that are the cul­prit), is it a bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion, is it sewage? It’s a com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing and the prob­lem is here. This project will try to ad­dress this at the point source,” he said. Test­ing done at an­other univer­sity biofil­ter on the Bruce Penin­sula has shown up to a 71-per-cent suc­cess rate in re­mov­ing phos­phates us­ing tomato plant roots as a fil­ter, said David Ure, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in­volved in the re­search.

Iron­i­cally, Mu­tus said, the univer­sity team is hav­ing trou­ble ob­tain­ing tomato roots for its study de­spite the pro­lif­er­a­tion of green­houses grow­ing the fruit in Leam­ing­ton.

Iron fil­ings and mod­i­fied saw­dust have also shown prom­ise as a way to filer and re­move phos­phates. Al­gae blobs in Lake Erie — they foul beaches, men­ace drink­ing wa­ter sys­tems and suck up oxy­gen when they die, caus­ing dead zones in the lake — have been a fre­quent prob­lem in Erie, es­pe­cially in its western basin. One no­to­ri­ous al­gae bloom in 2011 grew to nearly the size of Prince Ed­ward Is­land. An­other, in 2014, forced Toledo, Ohio, to shut down its drink­ing­wa­ter sup­ply sys­tem that draws from the lake.

Last month, the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial govern­ments put $400,000 into five phos­pho­rus-fight­ing projects else­where in South­west­ern On­tario, to test ways to re­move it from wa­ter in farm drainage sys­tems and mu­nic­i­pal pump­ing sta­tions.

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