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Oklahoma State University

OSU wins $6.5 million from EPA to help solve algae bloom problems

Monday, September 21, 2020

Algae Bloom in Water
A harmful algae bloom near a dock.

Harmful algal blooms are a growing problem in water across the nation, but OSU researchers may have one piece of the solution thanks to groundbreaking research and new funding.

OSU is one of seven institutions that won $6,487,188 in funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to research how to prevent and control these blooms.

“Harmful algal blooms are a serious and persistent problem across all 50 states,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press release. “By expanding our knowledge of how to control and prevent the occurrence of these blooms, we can better protect our watersheds — especially our drinking water sources and recreational waters.”

OSU’s funds will go toward creating a solution to help with agricultural watering and runoff. Dr. Allen Apblett and Dr. Nick Materer are co-principal investigators for the grant.

“The objective of the research is to develop a novel technology for sustainably and economically preventing harmful algal blooms in farm watering ponds,” Apblett said.

The frequency of human health effects caused by freshwater harmful algal blooms has increased over the last three decades, Apblett said. “These blooms are caused by excess plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the water,” he added.

“When too much nitrogen and phosphorus are introduced into water by human activities, algae will grow faster than ecosystems can handle. As a result, the water quality, food resources and habitats deteriorate.”

Apblett’s team is developing a solution based on the absorption of plant nutrients in pond water. They plan to use novel materials that when saturated with the nutrients can be used as a time-release fertilizer, he said.

“The technology will provide a sustainable solution for the prevention of hazardous algal blooms while also reducing the environmental and financial costs associated with the decontamination of ponds and the production of fertilizers,” Apblett said.

The technology will be able to be adapted to different sources such as septic tanks, animal feedlots, brewery waste, municipal wastewater and urban storm water runoff, he said.

“Harmful algal blooms pose a variety of dangers to human health and to the health of aquatic ecosystems,” said Dr. Kenneth Sewell, OSU’s vice president for research. “Dr. Apblett’s research offers novel solutions to this pernicious problem. It’s a great example of how science directly benefits society."

MEDIA CONTACT: Harrison Hill | Research Communication Specialist | 405-744-5827 | harrison.c.hill@okstate.edu

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