Out of its 250 public research and land-grant universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities selected The University of Toledo as the 2022 recipient of its Public Impact Research Award in recognition of the work by the Water Task Force to improve lives and serve the community.
UToledo’s Water Task Force, which was formed in response to the city of Toledo’s “Do Not Drink” water advisory in 2014 during a toxic algal bloom, is made up of more than 30 faculty members from across the University working to protect water quality and the health of Lake Erie for the half million people in the region who depend on the drinking water source.
UToledo scientists, engineers, medical researchers and public health and legal experts collaborate closely to advance ways to improve water quality and inform stakeholders about their latest research findings.
“Congratulations to The University of Toledo for winning the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Council on Research Public Impact Research Award,” said Debbie Altenburg, associate vice president for research policy and government affairs at APLU. “Public Impact Research is at the heart of public research universities’ missions and we’re thrilled to highlight The University of Toledo’s extraordinary efforts to harness its research enterprise to restore safe drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Toledo residents.”
The APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization whose members are comprised of public research universities, university systems and affiliated organizations across all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and several territories in Canada and Mexico.
“This is an exciting time in our history to receive such a prestigious honor as we celebrate UToledo’s sesquicentennial,” UToledo President Gregory Postel said. “For 150 years UToledo has been committed to serving both our students and our community. We are grateful to the APLU for recognizing the hard work and tremendous impact of our faculty researchers in their mission to protect our community from harmful algal blooms and other issues that threaten our water sources.”
In the aftermath of the Toledo water crisis, UToledo faculty worked together and made advances in monitoring cyanotoxin levels in the lake and new biomedical research aimed at better understanding how harmful algal blooms impact the health of individuals who spend time on or near the lake.
Several leaders in the region wrote letters in support of the recognition from APLU, noting how UToledo researchers help them address water quality challenges.
“Although there is clear evidence of the health effects of cyanotoxins, less is known about exposures to those with pre-existing conditions, such as liver or kidney disease,” said Eric Zgodzinski, health commissioner of the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. “This is a topic of intense interest from UToledo faculty members in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences and relates directly to the concerns of the Lucas County Health Department, given the prevalence of people in our community with pre-existing medical conditions.”
Zgodzinski also highlighted UToledo’s COVID-19 wastewater testing program to provide advance warning of COVID-19 in our community.
Edward Moore, director of public utilities with the city of Toledo, said UToledo faculty have been instrumental in monitoring the quality of water in Lake Erie at water intake sources and in collaborating with his water treatment team in the use of new systems to maintain water quality standards that meet or exceed the criteria of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“Environmental scientists at the University’s Lake Erie Center provide us with advance warning of algae blooms, giving us time to make adjustments to protect our drinking water,” Moore said. “They have also developed predictive models for algal bloom severity, diagnostic tests for toxin exposure and faster, easier methods of measuring algal toxins.”
Michael Beazley, former city administrator for the City of Oregon, recognized the breadth of expertise across disciplines to provide technical support and advice.
“Faculty members from the College of Engineering have been monitoring the impact of ozone peroxidation on biological filter performance and drinking water quality since 2017,” Beazley said. “In addition, they have been working to understand the fate of cyanobacteria and their toxins in drinking water treatment residuals which are reused for agricultural application — critical research, given the significance of agriculture to our community.”
“The amazing work and commitment of the Water Task Force faculty members and their students over the years has brought international recognition to the University in water research while providing important expertise to our community,” said Dr. Frank Calzonetti, vice president for research at UToledo.
UToledo will accept the APLU Public Impact Research Award at the association’s annual meeting in November in Denver.