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More tests needed before Ohio city gets water back

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August 2, 2014: Aundrea Simmons stands next to her minivan with cases of bottled water she bought after Toledo warned residents not to use its water. About 400,000 people in and around Ohio's fourth-largest city were warned not to drink or use its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly from algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/John Seewer)

More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day.

Mayor D. Michael Collins said Sunday that although new samples have shown the level of toxins in the water appears to have decreased, "this is not over yet."

Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on lake Erie. The city also said not to boil the water because that would only increase the toxin's concentration. The mayor also warned that children should not shower or bathe in the water and that it shouldn't be given to pets.

As a result, long lines formed at water distribution centers and store shelves were quickly emptied of bottled water. The warning effectively cut off the water supply to Toledo, most of its suburbs and a few areas in southeastern Michigan.

Worried residents told not to drink, brush their teeth or wash dishes with the water emptied store shelves and waited hours for deliveries of bottled water from across Ohio as the governor declared a state of emergency.

Gov. John Kasich pledged that state agencies were working to bring water and other supplies to areas around Toledo while also assisting hospitals and other businesses impacted. The state also was making plans to make more deliveries if the water problem lingered, he said.

"What's more important than water? Water's about life," Kasich said. "We know it's difficult. We know it's frustrating."

The governor said it was too early to say how long the water advisory will last or what caused toxins to spike suddenly in the drinking water.

"We don't really want to speculate on this," Kasich said. "When it comes to this water, we've got be very careful."

Families toting empty coolers, milk jugs and even cookie jars topped them off with well water funneled out of the back of a pickup truck.

John Myers, a farmer from nearby Swanton, loaded 450 gallons of well water into a container in the back of his pickup truck Saturday and gave it out for free in a high school parking lot.

"The more you got, the more we'll fill," he told residents carrying empty containers. "I never thought I'd see the day that I'd be giving water away."

Myers said his concern was that the advisory could go on for days. "This is a lot more serious than anybody's thinking about," he said.

Tyshanta DeLoney, of Toledo, filled up a big plastic container after spending much of the day searching for water. "That was a blessing," she said.

Late Saturday, Kasich ordered the state's National Guard to deliver water purification systems, pallets of bottled water and meals ready to eat, or MREs, to residents in Lucas, Wood and Fulton counties.

The first tests indicating trouble came Friday night and additional testing confirmed the elevated readings, said Craig Butler, director of the state's Environmental Protection Agency.

Water coming from the lake into Toledo's water plant had relatively low toxicity levels this summer compared with a year ago until this sudden spike.

Algae blooms during the summer have become more frequent and troublesome around the western end of Lake Erie, the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.

The algae growth is fed by phosphorus mainly from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants, leaving behind toxins that have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can't survive. The toxins can kill animals and sicken humans.

Scientists had predicted a significant bloom of the blue-green algae this year, but they didn't expect it to peak until early September.

There were no reports yet of people becoming sick from drinking the water, Collins said.

Stores in cities up to 50 miles away were reporting shortages of bottled water. Some neighboring communities that aren't connected to Toledo's water system were offering their water to people who brought their own bottles and containers.

Operators of water plants all along Lake Erie, which supplies drinking water for 11 million people, have been concerned over the last few years about toxins fouling their supplies.

Almost a year ago, one township just east of Toledo told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps. That was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.

Most water treatment plants along the western Lake Erie shoreline treat their water to combat the algae. Toledo spent about $4 million last year on chemicals to treat its water and combat the toxins.

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