The toxin standard adopted for warning swimmers to avoid Ohio lakes is more than three times more lenient than initially proposed after some officials warned that unwarranted stringency could have a negative impact on the tourism economy, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Public records obtained by The Columbus Dispatch show that officials at the state departments of health, environmental protection and natural resources were poised in early May to issue a no-touch warning at beaches if levels of the liver toxin microcystin measured at 6 parts per billion and there had been a human illness or pet death.

By the time the levels were announced to Ohioans in mid-June, the standard had changed to 20 parts per billion, following warnings of economic ramifications by directors at environmental protection and natural resources. A softer warning, against wading and swimming, is triggered by the 6-parts level.

"The impact is economic, and there is not a right or wrong answer, it is strictly a policy call," Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally wrote in a June 6 email to Gov. John Kasich’s cabinet secretary.

The system adopted does not place the public at risk, said Theodore Wymyslo, director of the Health Department.

"We have a very good document here that safeguards public health," he said.

Microcystin is a blue-green algae that can lead to skin rashes, sore throat, congestion or digestive problems, and can kill small animals. The 20-parts-per-billion level matches one set by the World Health Organization for adult swimmers. Ohio officials had suggested the 6 parts-per-billion level in an effort to better protect children.

The Dispatch reports that Nally said he wanted be sure everything was based on science and that officials were not "inadvertently or over-sensitively closing or shutting something down."

He was joined by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director David Mustine.

"My concern, really, is just making sure that we don’t discourage people from using a lake when there is not a reason to," Mustine said. "People will sometimes misinterpret a warning, and that really hurts the businesses around the lake."

The state posted water warnings at several lakes last summer, going as far as warning against swimming, boating and fishing at Ohio’s largest inland lake, Grand Lake St. Marys, between Toledo and Dayton.

The warnings devastated marinas, restaurants and other businesses near the 13,000-acre lake, where the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission says tourism typically brings an estimated $150 million and supports 2,400 jobs in the area.



From the Daily Journal