Organic Farming a Way to Reduce Alarming Algae

By Mary Ellen Wales, M.Sc., Organic Council of Ontario

A recent survey of lakes across Canada shows high levels of a dangerous toxin. The highest levels of the toxin were found in Manitoba and Alberta, CBC reported today.

The toxin, referred to as microcystin, is found in certain types of blue-green algae and poses threats to both humans and wildlife.

Public health authorities have recently issued some health warnings for Ontario Lakes, such as Sturgeon and Ramsey Lake. Health warnings have been issued for lakes in Alberta, British Colombia and Manitoba as well.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE), algal blooms are a “growing problem in Ontario’s lakes.”

When water contaminated with the toxin is ingested it can pose serious threats to human health. According to Professor David Schindler, a water expert from the University of Alberta, livestock have been most affected by the algal blooms since they lap up large amounts of lake water along the shore line. Health warnings have been issued for five lakes in Alberta this summer.

The reason for the high levels of the toxin: high levels of phosphorous. As Professor Schindler points out, the reason for high amounts of nutrients in lakes is “actually quite simple.” “We are over fertilizing our lakes,” he stated. There is two to three times more phosphorous in many of our lakes than 100 years ago.

Conventional agriculture and home gardening account for large amounts of chemical fertilizer use. Fertilizer run-off occurs, which means that fertilizers are washed away by rain water, eventually ending up in rivers, streams and lakes.

Some have gone as far to call this an ecological disaster. High levels of the algae are dangerous for other plant life in the lakes which depend on sunlight. Water bodies contain entire ecosystems and a change to one organism can cause a chain reaction along the whole ecosystem.

The MOE and other environmental authorities have recommended limiting and/or putting a halt on the use of chemical fertilizers. Organic farming uses natural fertilizers, such as manure and compost, to promote soil and plant health. With natural fertilizers a build up of toxic compounds in soils, and hence water bodies, is unlikely.

Using phosphate free detergents and body products is another way to reduce the amount of phosphorous entering water bodies. There are many organic and so-called natural cleaning and body care products on the market which are safer for out water systems. Some of these products use organic ingredients as well; purchasing organic, phosphate-free products is the way to go we really want to reduce the amount of phosphorous ending up in our lakes.

Water is a very important life supporting element that humans and wildlife just can’t live without. The algal blooms are human caused and we need to start thinking more about how our actions effect and pollute the environment around us. Supporting organic farming and gardening and using phosphate-free organic soaps and body products is an effectual way to reduce the amount of harmful phosphorous in our lakes, streams and rivers.

Comments are closed.