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UT researchers to lead majority of Ohio water quality research projects

The University of Toledo is slated to lead eight out of the 18 research projects to be funded with $2 million in state of Ohio research monies to address water quality and algal bloom toxicity.

UT is to receive more than $830,000 of the $2 million dedicated by the Ohio Board of Regents under the recommendation of a committee tasked with deciding how to best utilize and invest the funds. The Ohio Board of Regents announced the research project proposal last week.

The University is investing an additional $200,000 to support the research efforts of its faculty.

“The faculty at The University of Toledo were prompt to help when Toledo’s water supply was impacted by toxic algae in Lake Erie and continue to offer their expertise as we seek solutions to the algal blooms that negatively impact our community and others throughout Ohio,” UT Interim President Nagi Naganathan said. “Given our location on Lake Erie and breadth of expertise in environmental sciences, environmental engineering, medicine and spatial sciences, UT is well-positioned to provide the important solutions we need to address this concern.”

The UT researchers who will receive funding for their projects are:

• Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, who will work to extend early-warning capacity for harmful algal blooms by placing sensors up to eight miles away from intakes in areas where high toxin levels tend to develop during blooms, and investigate environmental variables that provide insight on conditions that promote production and release of algal toxins.

• Dr. Isabel Escobar, professor in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and interim associate dean of research, development and outreach in the College of Engineering, who will study alternative water treatment processes to remove algal toxins, address transport of toxins through drinking water distribution systems, and compare processes to detect cyanotoxins.

• Dr. Kenneth Hensley, associate professor of pathology, who will develop a method to detect toxins in biological samples, such as urine or blood, to assess exposure to toxins.

• Dr. Jason Huntley, assistant professor of medical microbiology and immunology, who will test conditions that promote microcystin-degrading bacteria to form biofilms on filters currently used in municipal water treatment facilities.

• Dr. Patrick Lawrence, professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Planning, who will organize available information and engage Maumee watershed stakeholders to help make informed decisions and suggest best management practices.

• Dr. Thomas Sodeman, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at UT Medical Center, who will study the impact of pre-existing liver disease for susceptibility of microcystin hepatotoxicity.

A group of more than 60 university researchers, including four from UT who co-chaired focus group areas, were convened by Board of Regents Chancellor John Carey to recommend how the funds would be invested. The group made recommendations looking at five key areas: Lake Erie harmful algal blooms and lake water quality; drinking water testing and detection; agricultural land-use practices, sources of enrichment, water quality, and engineered systems; human health and toxicity; and economics and policy reform.

“This group put a great deal of time and effort into addressing this important issue,” Carey said. “I am very proud of the effort of the researchers from both the public and private higher education institutions. This collaborative effort is evidence of the value of higher education in Ohio to solving the toxic algae issue. We need to build upon this model with other important issues facing our state.”

The newly funded research projects will add to UT’s already robust work in the area of water quality.

Shortly after the August water crisis in Toledo, a University of Toledo Water Task Force was created. Comprised of faculty and researchers spanning the University’s colleges, UT Medical Center and UT Lake Erie Center, the task force serves as a resource for officials at all levels of government and coordinates existing UT Lake Erie research and ongoing related investigative efforts on water resource management and water quality.

“We are committed to our role as a public research university and are pleased we have the faculty expertise to support our region,” said Dr. Frank Calzonetti, UT vice president for government relations and chief of staff to the president, who is chairing the task force. “UT is in a unique position to provide the resources and expertise sought by our local and regional stakeholders to address this issue.”