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Fertilizers seep into lake; algae a problem

Gene Schabath
The Detroit News

10/02/2002


   HARRISON TOWNSHIP -- A blanket of mint-green algae that recently covered Campau Bay -- south of the Clinton River in Lake St. Clair -- is a graphic example of what happens from overuse of lawn and crop fertilizers, said biologist Carl Freeman at Wayne State University.
   "The Macomb County Health Department conducts water tests in Campau Bay, and it always has nutrients in it. That's a sign of fertilizers," Freeman said.
   The Clinton River also is affected.
   "Fertilizers from our lawns and from farms gets washed into the Clinton River, and a lot of it ends up in the lake," said Doug Martz, head of the Macomb Water Quality Board.
   Algae growth was so thick that it kept some boaters from the bay, Martz said.
   That inconvenience pales in comparison to what happened to Lake Erie in the 1950s and '60s, Freeman said. The amount of phosphorous -- from fertilizers and laundry detergent -- draining into Lake Erie was so plentiful that it contributed to turning Erie into a "dead lake."
   "It caused algae to grow horrifically," Freeman said. "When the algae died it used up the oxygen and that asphyxiated the fish. And the dead fish used up more oxygen. That's how Lake Erie died."
   Elsewhere, nutrients are being blamed for "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico.
   "Nutrients stimulate growth in the form of plankton blooms. And when those organisms die, they sink to the bottom and die," according to a report from Ducks Unlimited. "This decay process uses up available dissolved oxygen, causing mobile organisms like fish and shrimp to leave the area. Immobile animals like clams and oysters essentially suffocate."

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