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NCCOS Research Project

Portable Toxin Detection Technology to Support Great Lakes Decision Support Tools

Primary Contact(s): felix.martinez@noaa.gov
This project began in September 2019 and is projected to be completed in August 2023

This project improves the rapid detection of cyanotoxins in the field to provide managers with timely information on risk and minimize exposure to stakeholders. The team will pilot use of a commercially-available rapid, portable system capable of quantitative detection of cyanobacterial toxins. This system will be integrated into existing monitoring programs that engage recreational beach managers, water treatment plant operators, charter boat captains, and state environmental scientists.

Why We Care
Toxic cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) contribute to economic losses that exceed $2B annually in the U.S. For Lake Erie, the smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes, estimated annual economic losses of $65-71M have been reported for the western basin due to CHABs and this is likely an underestimate because it does not account for the millions of dollars lost due to events like the 2014 Toledo water crisis. Currently, we cannot forecast changes in cyanotoxins such as microcystins (MC), the most ubiquitous cyanotoxin in the Great Lakes and throughout the world, as well as emerging cyanotoxins of concern for the northeast USA, such as cylindrospermopsins (CYN). As such, rapid detection technologies and improved monitoring strategies will be crucial in protecting humans from exposure to contaminated drinking and recreational waters in western Lake Erie and other similarly affected water bodies.

What Are We Doing
The primary objective of this project is to fully validate and integrate a rapid, portable, quantitative, multiplexed cyanotoxin detection technology into routine monitoring programs, citizen science groups, recreational beach management, and water treatment plants throughout the western Lake Erie to provide water managers with on-the-spot testing of MC and CYN.

This project will first validate a commercially-available MC/CYN HAB Toxin Detection System for rapid detection of MC as well as CYN. It will then test its effectiveness by incorporating it into the routine monitoring programs of the Toledo and Port Clinton water treatment plant operators, NOAA’s Phytoplankton Monitoring Network for western Lake Erie, the Lake Erie charter boat captain citizen science initiative (led by OSU since 2013), and lastly, Maumee Bay State Park beach managers.

These coordinated, concurrent validation efforts will provide robust data to not only validate the MBio instrument against a recognized ‘gold standard’ method, but also to assess the ease of use for water management professionals and citizen scientist organizations. Finally, a data management system will be developed to provide an easy method for the aforementioned monitoring groups to upload their data through a user-friendly smartphone ‘app’ to a common database system and ultimately to an end-user website, providing a centralized location accessible by other researchers, water plant managers, and the general public.

Dr. Timothy Davis of the Bowling Green State University leads this project. Co-investigators are Dr. Greg Doucette (NOAA NCCOS), Dr. Steve Morton (NOAA NCCOS), Dr. Sarah Bickman (MBio Diagnostics, Inc.), Dr. Thomas Bridgeman (University of Toledo), Mr. Ed Verhamme (LimnoTech, Inc.), Dr. Justin Chaffin (The Ohio State University Stone Laboratory), and Dr. Thomas Johengen (University of Michigan, Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research). The project is funded through the NCCOS Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Program.

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